HIDA MedSurg Conference & Expo

Edition: November 2007 - Vol 15 Number 11
Article#: 2805
Author: Repertoire

BOSTON—Physician customers will be using electronic medical records instead of paper charts … sometime. Everything seems to be pointing in that direction. But there’s a lot of confusion because there are hundreds of EMR systems on the market. Physicians have questions about cost, reliability, ease of use, and connectivity with medical equipment, and they’re looking for guidance. If they haven’t already, Repertoire readers will inevitably face the question, “Which electronic medical record system should I buy?” The rep’s role, as always, is to give their customers good, reliable information, even if they’re not an expert on the subject. That was the advice of Michael Paquin, president, MDP Group, Thousand Oaks, Calif., and former president of Midmark Diagnostics, speaking on the topic at the 2007 HIDA MedSurg Conference & Expo.

“Healthcare electronic records have to happen,” said Paquin, who at one time was vice president for cardiology products for NextGen Healthcare Information Systems, Horsham, Pa., a developer of computer-based practice management and EMR systems for physicians. President Bush said as much in his last State of the Union address, and virtually all the 2008 presidential candidates have agreed. The government — and many others — believe that electronic records will reduce inefficiency and cost in the system. They can help reduce duplication of tests, improve formulary compliance, improve coding, reduce or eliminate transcription costs and free up space for patient-care activities that had been reserved for medical records, Paquin said. But more important, they can improve patient care.

In fact, many problems in healthcare are information-related, said Paquin. More information is being collected than ever before, but it’s not always useable. Sometimes it simply cannot be found, he said. In some large clinics, with hundreds of doctors and multiple locations, doctors expect charts to be in their hands when they need it. But oftentimes, they’re not. As a result, tests are duplicated, and thousands of dollars are spent making new charts and then pulling them. Worse, the possibility of mistakes is multiplied. For example, a doctor might prescribe the wrong medication because he or she didn’t have a record showing what medication the patient already is taking or didn’t have access to the patient’s history.

A driving force behind the push toward electronic records is the need to “get information in the right place and time, when people need it, so they don’t make mistakes,” said Paquin.

The hang-up

With so much pointing toward the wisdom of implementing electronic medical records, why isn’t it happening now? “I don’t think we’re addressing the cost of these systems or how to train doctors to get up and running,” said Paquin.

To acquire an electronic medical record system, the physician or practice must not only buy the software licenses, but also a server, handheld devices, installation, training and ongoing support. The average cost of implementation is $50,000.

Even if customers have been slow to implement an electronic medical record, distributor reps should help them be prepared, said Paquin. They should be selling devices and equipment that are capable of connecting to an electronic system. Reps can play some other important roles. For example, they can point physicians to the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT), which certifies EMR systems. And they can advise their physician customers that the amount and quality of training they receive from an EMR vendor should be a bigger consideration to them than the acquisition cost of the system. “Tell them to demand service,” said Paquin. “Tell them you represent the gold standard for service, and if an EMR company can’t provide that same level of service, don’t do business with them.”

“The promises of EMRs continue to be compelling,” Paquin said. “They will enhance patient safety and improve provider efficiency …. But your doctors need your help. Know when to get involved and when not to. Understand the risks and the opportunity.

“EMR technology is the future. Implementation is the challenge.”