Urgent care centers have lagged in adoption of electronic

Nicole Lewis, Contributor

April 30, 2012

4 Min Read

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Although many urgent care centers have resisted adopting electronic medical records (EMRs), their plans to increase in size or location during the next 12 months will drive these facilities to adopt the technology, a recently released report from KLAS concludes.

"Urgent Care 2012: A Host of EMR Options" relied on interviews with senior executives at 76 urgent care organizations to find out what types of EMR systems are best meeting their needs, and what options are available.

Typically, an urgent care center doesn't have beds, and their patients don't make appointments. The centers provide walk-in, extended-hour access for acute illness and injury care that is either beyond the scope or availability of the typical primary care practice or retail clinic.

[ Practice management software keeps the medical office running smoothly. For a closer look at KLAS' top-ranked systems, see 10 Top Medical Practice Management Software Systems. ]

Estimates suggest that there are 9,000 urgent care centers in the U.S., with approximately 86% planning additional locations. Doctors at these facilities attend to a wide variety of patients, from those with minor illnesses, such as the common cold, fever, or vomiting, to those with broken bones and other acute problems that require a trip to an emergency department for further treatment.

According to Erik Bermudez, KLAS research director and the report's author, many urgent care centers still use paper records and have resisted adopting EMRs because of the high cost of implementing the system. Additionally, installing an EMR initially slows down a physician's workflow. Also, many centers fear patient data breaches.

Nevertheless, as more urgent care centers expand, the business model will change and the demand for digitized medical records will increase, predicted Bermudez. "If you are looking at urgent care centers that are only using paper, obviously opening up a second location and trying to track finances and track patient volumes and physician efficiency becomes much more difficult without having that ability to pull data through an EMR or a practice management system," Bermudez told InformationWeek Healthcare.

Bermudez also said individual urgent care centers have different needs and that one EMR system does not fit all situations. He noted that some centers value clinician efficiency, while other centers need strong vendor support because they don't have in-house IT. Still others require that patient information be shared with an affiliated hospital.

The report says urgent care centers have three options:

-- Invest in a best-of-breed urgent care EMR;

-- adapt an ambulatory EMR; or

-- use an affiliated hospital's emergency department system.

"Independent urgent care centers or those in a chain typically go with a best-of-breed urgent care EMR or a traditional ambulatory EMR," stated the report. However, "hospital-affiliated urgent care centers (about one-third of the market) often use their in-house ED solution or the ambulatory EMR used by the organization's physician practices."

Among the best-of-breed EMR solutions, the report gave Practice Velocity the highest ranking for offering the strongest product in operations and the best support.

CodoniX customers rate their vendor highest in clinical strength, and DocuTAP rates strongest for implementation and training.

For larger urgent care organizations, with 11 to 75 doctors, the report found overall ambulatory EMR satisfaction was highest with Allscripts Professional, athenahealth, and Greenway. Smaller organizations of one to 10 doctors prefer Amazing Charts, athenahealth, and Greenway.

For emergency department information systems (EDIS), the highest-scoring vendors are Epic, MEDHOST, and Wellsoft. The report found that organizations using an EDIS in both the hospital ED and in owned/affiliated urgent care centers report similar satisfaction levels, even though the EDIS provides more than what an urgent care center needs.

The 2012 InformationWeek Healthcare IT Priorities Survey finds that grabbing federal incentive dollars and meeting pay-for-performance mandates are the top issues facing IT execs. Find out more in the new, all-digital Time To Deliver issue of InformationWeek Healthcare. (Free registration required.)

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