Specialty physicians need to look at EHR platforms differently

January 1, 2015

The move toward specialty specific cloud-based EHR and practice management software platforms is real and will happen. It’s no longer a question of if, but when. An overhaul of EHR platforms to offer systems that cater to specific medical practices is needed. For specialty physicians, the shift cannot come soon enough.

 

Take home

The move toward specialty specific cloud-based EHR and practice management software platforms is real and will happen. It’s no longer a question of if, but when. An overhaul of EHR platforms to offer systems that cater to specific medical practices is needed. For specialty physicians, the shift cannot come soon enough.

 

 

By Robert Pollack, MD

San Diego-For some time, federal regulators and insurance companies have made the strong push for all physician groups-including ophthalmologists-to move toward digital practice management and electronic health record (EHR) systems. Eventually, it will mean the difference between being fully reimbursed or not.

Even without the mandate, there are great reasons to do so. For starters, the cost of paper management is significant. Surgical offices alone will spend an average of $2 to $3 annually to manage, retrieve, and store a single patient chart. Depending on the size of the practice, the hidden may be in the high five figures. With this daunting background, the right EHR system should not be seen as a necessary evil, but instead an efficient productivity tool that will save the ophthalmologist money over time.

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One problem for such offices is that mainstream EHR platforms are not well suited for the needs of ophthalmology practices. They are designed for family practice and internal medicine physicians who bill by the appointment instead of the procedure-oriented practice of surgeons.

Second, most EHR systems require the medical group to purchase and maintain at least one server on their premise thus causing the implementation costs to rise significantly. The hardware expenses alone is at times too prohibitive for most surgeon groups, but add the appropriately trained IT and security personal to run the servers, and the overhead is often unbearable.

Features and benefits

 

The tech industry is beginning to respond and enabling specialty physicians to look at EHR platforms differently than before. The key is to seek out systems that were designed from the outset to meet the needs of this particular group of medical professionals. They include the following features and benefits:

•       Surgeon-specific EHR platforms that tie into existing office practices. Consider EHR platforms that can organize all patient documentation with one software package. The good ones also offer pre-made specialty templates as well as the ability to create new ones. Most importantly, the right EHR system should be specifically geared toward a specialty physician’s day by managing scheduling, charting, labs, procedural notes, education, and billing. It should also give the office the ability to upload scanned documents and photos to a patient’s online folder and thus eliminate paper charts.

•       Surgeon-specific EHR platforms that are cloud-based. These systems eliminate the high up-front costs, complicated software installations, expensive servers and annual upgrade fees associated with traditional offerings. Web-based platforms provide secure access to patient data with fully HIPAA-compliant data storage and disaster recovery for a monthly subscription and often times with 24/7 customer support. What’s more, these systems afford specialty physicians access to patient records anywhere at anytime via a standard web browser improving productivity and efficiency.

•       Surgeon-specific EHR platforms that improve communication with patients and staff. These systems should enable specialty physicians and their staff to send and receive notifications and alerts, schedule and track appointments, and see summary data about the entire practice and procedures. Most will also offer automated appointment reminders to reduce patient no-shows, and many will enable staff to create mailing lists for patient birthdays and office events.

Reducing liability

 

There’s an additional inherent advantage to EHR platforms that are cloud-based, and this is the reduction of liability exposure for the practice. With a server-based system, physicians must maintain encryption of data on the server and perform daily off-site backups. Failure to follow these policies can be seen as a violation of the federal statue and put specialty physicians and their entire practice at risk. The potential fines that can believed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office for Civil Rights can run anywhere from a few hundred thousand dollars into the millions of dollars.

HIPAA-compliant, cloud-based EHR systems eliminate this issue since data are not stored locally. Patient files are accessed by a web browser and remain secured and compliant on the cloud server with encryption and off-site data storage performed automatically. The benefits to lower liability risk for a specialty physician’s practice cannot be overstated.

The move toward EHR and practice management software platforms is real and will happen. It’s no longer a question of if, but when. Organizations, such as the American Medical Association, have recently called for an overhaul of EHR platforms in order to make usability a top priority. One key way to do that is by offering systems that cater to specific medical practices. For specialty physicians, the shift cannot come soon enough.

 

Robert Pollack, MD, is co-founder and chief medical officer of SupraMed and a board-certified plastic surgeon in private practice in San Diego. He can be reached at rpollack@supramed.com.