When it comes to Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), large medical groups have the resources and manpower to invest in information technology, and are able to benefit from cost savings, because they are often insurers as well as providers.
But these large groups are the exceptions rather than the rule in U.S. health care – three-fourths of the nation’s doctors practice in small offices with 10 doctors or fewer, for whom computerized patient records seem like an insurmountable cost and cumbersome implementation. Is it any surprise, then, that only about 17 percent of the nation’s physicians have made the leap to digitization?
But with the Obama’s administration commitment to spend $19 billion to accelerate the use of EMRs in doctor’s offices, and with Medicare penalties kicking in at 2015 for physicians who do not have a qualifying electronic health record, this year is a meaningful one for EMRs. “Once the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) releases the final definition of ‘meaningful use’ of EHRs, we are going to see a race to receive ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funding before the money runs out and physicians are at risk for Medicare penalties,” says Scott Weingarten, Zynx Health CEO and president, a Santa Monica, Calif., evidence-based clinical support provider. “It’s a major undertaking for any size organization to implement clinical decision support with EHRs, so we are going to see a lot of activity and preparation in 2010.”
But where to begin? Daniel Inscore, EMR consultant with Atlanta area EthosPartners Healthcare Management Group, has these top five top tips:
· CCHIT certification: Select an EHR vendor that is certified by the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT).
· Start-Up factors: Be prepared to invest in your technology infrastructure, which is crucial to the success of your EMR. Disaster recovery measure should be put in place and thoroughly tested prior to go-live. When preparing the budget for EMR, physicians should factor a reduction in productivity at the initial “Go-Live” phase. This is temporary but should be evaluated as part of the overall investment.
· Hosted option: Many EMR vendors are now offering hosted or web-based EMR solutions. A small practice can “subscribe” to a fully functional EMR with minimal investment in hardware. This solution is more affordable than conventional EMR investments, but there are pro’s and con’s, including possibly less control over your operations.
* Workforce: Training should be crucial to your implementation plan. It is extremely important to allow adequate time for training with physicians, clinicians, and office staff to ensure everyone fully understands the software as well as the revised workflows.
· Communicate with patients: Make your patients aware that you are adopting new technology to improve their quality of care.
Dr. Peter Deane, an immunologist in a seven-physician practice based in Rochester, N.Y., begun to discuss EMRs 20 years ago, and committed to the New England based-vendor Sequel Systems almost over a decade later. His office has implemented electronic messaging and e-prescribing, and e-charting finally started this fall. Although it hasn’t been completely smooth sailing, Deane is glad he’s taken the plunge. “EMR implementation is inevitable for medical practices,” he says.
Cindy Atoji is a Boston-based journalist who specializes in technology, business, and healthcare news coverage. A former Boston Herald editor, Cindy blogs for the Globe and BodiMojo.com, and writes for various national publications. Visit her Website at www.CindyAtoji.com.