EOL Tech Talk: Keeping Current with EMR

Edition: January 2013 - Vol 21 Number 01
Article#: 4167
Author: Repertoire

From the moment patients arrive at the physician’s office, the front desk, nurses and clinicians must collect – and keep track of – data crucial to providing the best possible care. Advances in electronic medical records have made it possible to do so accurately and efficiently. By keeping current with EMR technology, distributor sales reps can help their physician customers navigate the process of enhancing or replacing their current system.

A streamlined practice

Physicians today generally understand that electronic medical records reduce the need for paper files and forms, and streamline workflow by reducing labor-intensive tasks, such as copying, duplicating and filing. As such, they can facilitate better patient safety and care. Through recent advances in EMR, more devices and labs can now be linked, and physician practices and specialties can share patient results with one another across the country. When diagnostic devices are connected to the EMR, data captured by the device is directly input into the system. There is no printing, no scanning. As soon as the technician is finished running a test, the data is in the patient record and the physician can instantly review it and email results to specialists if necessary. Compared to traditional means of collecting and sending data, this process is faster, more efficient and leaves less room for error.

Whether or not distributor reps are EMR experts, they can help their physician customers take the first steps toward adopting a new system. Sometimes, vendors offer specialty EMR software geared toward specific physician specialties, such as cardiology, OB/GYN, pediatrics, family practice or others. Regardless of their specialty, however, physicians will be more successful with EMR implementation if they start out with some clear-cut goals. EMR experts suggest that physicians consider a number of key points, including the following:

  • What are our budgetary goals?

  • Why are we looking at EMR?

  • Do we want to improve patient care, office efficiency or both?

  • Do we want to make more money?

  • What are our hardware needs and what is the expected lifespan of the computer technology?

  • Who will install the EMR – the physician practice or the vendor?

By staying focused, physicians are more likely to purchase a system that they can use to full capacity.

A number of resources provide lists of reputable vendors, which can serve as a starting point for physicians new to the process. One such resource, the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT), was developed specifically to review, evaluate and certify electronic record-keeping systems that meet criteria for serving physicians. The group provides lists of vendors and their products as a service for physicians who do not always have time and resources to thoroughly evaluate a variety of software packages. In addition, associations such as the Medical Group Management Association and various physician specialty societies provide lists and reports of vendors whose annual conferences and meetings provide opportunities for physicians to review products. Preliminary questions for physicians to ask EMR vendors include the following:

  • “What is the cost per physician license?”

  • “Do you have existing clients in our specialty?”

  • “Does your system come pre-loaded with templates for my specialty?”

  • “Does your company develop its own software, or is it re-branded from another vendor?”

  • “Is your software client/server-based or ASP-based?”

  • “Does your system include practice management software?”

  • “How long have you been in business and what kind of ongoing system support do you offer?”

  • “How often is your software updated?”

A physician practice should clarify its training expectations up front for the vendor, as well as work out costs involved for training. Every practice requires a different amount and type of training, depending on the staff’s learning curve and comfort level with the new EMR. In the end, all staff members must be on board and able to use the new system to full capacity.

EMRs are not cheap. In the first year alone, a physician practice can easily spend between $35,000 and $45,000 on the low end, and $60,000 on the high end, for computer hardware, software, interfaces between diagnostic equipment and the EMR and maintenance/support. And, that doesn’t include a one-time cost of about $35,000 to interface the office system with the hospital and outside lab service. To offset the high cost and encourage more physicians to get on board with EMR and, inevitably, electronic health record systems (EHRs), the government passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which commits $19 billion toward bolstering efforts to digitize healthcare. Physicians who have shown “meaningful use” of a certified EMR have already begun receiving up to $44,000 from Medicare (over a five-year period).

Physicians who are satisfied that their current EMR promotes efficient office workflow and will qualify for the government stimulus should know that it is very doable to connect new diagnostic devices to older EMRs, enabling the transfer of patient test results from the device to the patient’s record. Practices should expect to spend about $700 to connect a particular manufacturer’s devices to an existing EMR system, according to some experts. Distributor reps should suggest to physicians that they ask their EMR vendors to bring in and demonstrate different solutions in order that they can see which connectivity tool best matches their office workflow.

The more direction distributor sales reps can provide for their physician customers with regard to EMRs, the more value they can bring to the practice. By showing physicians and their staff they are available and accessible, reps are likely to create a trusting relationship for years to come.