My wife and I are both semi-retired and we recently moved to small town north of the metropolis where we lived for the past forty years. We could not take the pace of big-city life anymore. Since our health insurance carrier was the same throughout the move, we stayed with the same health care provider, who has clinics in both areas. We have been seeing the same doctor for many years, and we dreaded the thought of the reams of paperwork we would be required to fill out when we chose a new doctor. Anyone who has switched doctors in the past knows what I am talking about; page after page of medical history, prescriptions we are on, dosage, etc. It is a tedious and time-consuming process.
Our previous physician had switched to an electronic system about ten years ago. As the nurse or physician was examining my wife, or me they were entering information into a computer that was located in the examination room. It was not until the move to the smaller town, and seeing the new doctor, that I realized the benefit for the patient when a clinic uses an Electronic Medical Record system. Other than a couple of pages of basic information about me that we needed to fill out, (probably to verify identity) the new clinic had imported all our medical records from our previous doctor. As patients, we were impressed by the efficiency of such a system. However, as a health care provider reading this, you may be contemplating the purchase of such a system, and wondering if the benefits of an EMR system will outweigh the costs.
Some Definitions First
Acronyms such EMR, EHR, and EPR are sometimes used in articles and sales brochures interchangeably, in that they all eliminate, or greatly reduce the use of paper records, but there are some differences between them.
Electronic Medical Record (EMR) is an electronic file, or a patient’s medical record created and stored by a health care provider, such as a hospital or doctor’s office, in a computer system. An EMR can serve as the source of information for an EHR.
Electronic Health Record (EHR) uses the information gathered in a patient’s EMR and may be shared electronically with other health networks, such as other health care providers and insurance carriers.
Electronic Patient Record (EPR) is an EHR that the patient possesses and controls.
Three Main Benefits to an Electronic Medical Record System
Less Paper The system of filing patient’s medical records on paper is cumbersome, time-consuming, and more expensive than electronic storage. Not only is cost of paper and folders reduced or eliminated, but there is also a reduction in payroll expense. According to a 2003 study by the University of California, physicians who work solo, or in a small group with other physicians, saved as much as $20,000 per year after they began storing medical records electronically. Generally, there is an initial drop in staff productivity as they become accustomed to the system. However, over a period of a few months, productivity increases to the point of surpassing previous output, and it is at that point when the EMR system will begin paying for itself.
Fewer Errors Inputting information into an Electronic Medical Record system as you go reduces the number of mistakes during the path between a handwritten chart and the transcriptionist. Additionally, errors can be made when a health care provider relies on memory to fill in a patients chart hours after an examination.
Increased Efficiency By having instant access to a patient’s records, physicians are able to chart their observations and treatment immediately, thereby increasing the amount of time spent with each patient and/or increasing the number of patients seen in a day. Also, billing the insurance provider electronically, and receiving payment electronically saves days, or even weeks waiting for reimbursement. One of the biggest issues facing businesses today, whether it is a retail establishment or a doctor’s office, is cash flow. No matter how well you are doing, if the money coming in is too slow arriving, it is difficult to meet payroll and other expenses. So today, payment received a few days earlier may make the difference between success and failure.