Don't Squander Your EHR Investment - InformationWeek
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Paul Cerrato
Paul Cerrato
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Don't Squander Your EHR Investment

Why spend all that money on an office-based electronic health record system and not take full advantage of its features?

Despite the fact that more than 50% of office-based physicians have implemented EHRs, most practices aren't making full use of many of the most useful features, according to Rosemarie Nelson, a principal with the Medical Group Management Association Health Care Consulting Group. Nelson, who was cited in a recent American Medical News report, said neglected features include patient portals, e-prescribing, and electronic appointment scheduling.

Why the hesitation? For some medical practices, it's probably about cost because some EHR vendors require additional fees to take advantage of the plug-ins. For other practices, it might be that their already overworked staffs just don't have time to learn and deploy the features or maybe they don't fully appreciate what these features can bring to a practice.

Understandably, most practices are already coping with enough IT obligations to keep them busy. Between the push to qualify for Meaningful Use and accountable care organization programs and the need to implement the ICD10 billing code system, most practices are swamped.

[ Is it time to re-engineer your Clinical Decision Support system? See 10 Innovative Clinical Decision Support Programs. ]

Despite these demands on your time and resources, it still makes good business sense to get these additional features up and running. A patient portal, for instance, can let your patients book appointments, request referrals to specialists, and pay their bills without having to talk to anyone on staff. And some EHR systems even let physicians send continuity-of-care documents to patients so that they can see a summary of their visits. Others have the capability to send lab results directly to patients, reducing the need for phone calls.

Another advantage of a patient portal, if set up correctly, is its potential to improve office workflow and clinical outcomes. In a recent conversation with George Brenckle, CIO and senior vice president at the UMass Memorial healthcare system, he said a system-wide patient portal is on his 2012 to-do list. In the meantime, UMass has seen positive results with a portal that focuses more narrowly on diabetic patients.

Patients who test their blood glucose at home can plug their glucose monitors into their laptops and send data to UMass Memorial's Allscripts EHR, according to Brenckle. Clinicians can then review that data in real time and alert patients by phone to any dangerous trends, rather than waiting for the patient to come in for his or her next visit.

E-prescribing is another EHR tool worth considering. Every clinican knows that handwritten scripts sometimes get lost in a sea of papers when patients walk out the door. When a practice fills those orders electronically directly from the office, it does away with that problem. A recent study conducted by the e-prescribing network Surescripts confirmed that e-prescribing makes a difference.

Surescripts, along with a group of pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers, recently examined more than 40 million de-identified records of paper, phoned-in, faxed-in, and electronic prescriptions, and found the rate of first prescriptions actually being filled and picked up was 10% higher when prescriptions were written electronically. Higher first-fill rates generally lead to better medication adherence, fewer doctor visits, and reduced risk of hospitalization.

So given the advantages of patient portals and e-prescribing, it's worth investing the additional manpower and capital. What are you waiting for?

Healthcare providers must collect all sorts of performance data to meet emerging standards. The new Pay For Performance issue of InformationWeek Healthcare delves into the huge task ahead. Also in this issue: Why personal health records have flopped. (Free registration required.)

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