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Answers to Enlighten Your EHR Transition

Electronic health record (EHR) systems are transforming healthcare, and while eliminating paper files in favor of digital can enhance patient care, improve workflow and reduce costs, the transition can also create a lot of confusion. Here are a few of the questions your colleagues have asked and some answers to help make informed EHR decisions no matter where your practice happens to be in the EHR transition.

Question: Isn’t an EHR system “mandatory” for all practices, from the viewpoint that a physician’s reimbursement will be decreased by not purchasing an EHR?

Answer: The answer to that question depends heavily on your payer mix. Currently, no law requires a practice to purchase an EHR. However, there are some considerable financial enticements to purchase an EHR for practices with large percentages of Medicare patients. These practices may want to consider buying an EHR to avoid the financial penalties Medicare plans to start enforcing in 2015.

Question: How long should we expect to wait to see the benefits after implementing an EHR?

Answer: According to MGMA-ACMPE® best practices data, practices can expect to wait at least six months and sometimes up to 24 months to see the benefits after implementing an EHR. It is also expected that you’ll see increased expenses along the way.

Question: We have a specialty practice–what consideration do we need to give to EHR integration when local hospitals and referring physicians use different systems?

Answer: You can contact your state, regional extension center (REC) or even your local hospital system to determine if your area has a Health Information Exchange (HIE). Many HIEs and others are working on common standards for systems to communicate. While HIEs are in their infancy and exist in many different forms around the country, most of the large EHR vendors are preparing to—or starting to—participate with them. Ask any potential EHR vendors about their plans and have details written into your contract that states they intend to participate in an area HIE. If you already use an EHR, you should discuss this issue now or when you renew your support agreement.

Question: Do you have any suggestions for minimizing ‘slowdown’ during implementation of an EHR and different performance metrics to monitor and manage it?

Answer: Like most implementations, training and practice are essential to decreasing slowdown before your EHR goes live. It is beneficial to have a staff member pretend to be a patient and walk through the entire visit from check-in to check-out. This walk through should be completed for the most common patient visits so everyone knows what to expect. Since the entire practice is a team, it is important for everyone – from front desk to staff providers – to go through training together so that each knows what the other’s role is.