Not too long ago, paper medical records were the standard. Once a patient checked themselves into a clinic, someone would have to run to the back and scramble through years of paper documents in the hope of finding the correct one — if it even existed. Many healthcare organizations have since abandoned their traditional ways by transitioning from paper to electronic medical records. EMR software has become a key component of any medical practice.
In 2017, about 87 percent of physicians used an EMR, and that number will only go up. Not only is EMR changing the way practitioners document and store data, but it’s also leading to better patient treatment and diagnosis.
EMR/EHR: Is There a Difference?
EMR is described as an electronic record of a patient’s health-related information in regards to a single healthcare organization. Depending on the software, EMR replaces or collaborates with the traditional method of charting on paper.
You may have also heard of electronic health records and wondered what the differences are between that and EMR, if any. EHR software didn’t come around until after EMR had been introduced — one of the reasons EHR was created was due to the limitations of EMR.
With EHR, the difference lies in its ability to share information with other practices, making it so patient history and other useful data can be accessed anywhere and anytime. For example, let’s say a patient has gone to the same clinic for years and all of a sudden has to make a change for whatever reason; their medical history can be transferred to another practice. Rather than starting from scratch, a healthcare provider will instead be able to access information from all clinicians involved in the patient’s prior treatment. Essentially, an EHR is an EMR, just with more functionality, or interoperability.
Still confused? Don’t stress about it; more recently, industry insiders have started to use the two interchangeably. The important thing to understand is that both EMR and EHR work to increase a practitioner’s efficiency and improve the quality of patient care through simplifying and documenting data. For the sake of this article, I will be using EMR in reference to both systems.
Why You Should Transition to EMR
Converting your medical records from paper to electronic can seem like a daunting task, but there are a number of benefits that make it worth it. EMRs are advancing our level of healthcare and leading to more productivity within a practice.
Time & Money
One appealing byproduct of EMR is the time and money it saves your practice. Rather than searching through countless paper files to find a specific medical record, providers can quickly and easily access a patient’s history online.
Many practices have entire rooms designated for holding years of patient information and documents. By being able to store and access patient data through the cloud, practices can repurpose that space and save money on storage costs while reducing their carbon footprint. In addition, eligible providers can earn financial incentives for implementing electronic records, helping with the cost of transitioning.
Security & Accuracy
In addition to saving time and money, EMR can provide better security of confidential and sensitive records. Certain users can be given different levels of accessibility to patient information to assure confidential files are kept secure.
By saving documents to a cloud-based server rather than a physical storage location, you don’t run the risk of losing important information to tampering or external damage. On-premise systems are another option if more security is desired, but they typically come with a higher cost and more IT work to be done yourself. Although there are differences between cloud-based and on-premise systems, both are valid options.
EMR software also eliminates the possibility of any legibility issues and cuts down the amount of time and errors that come with the manual double entry of data. For example, a physician may look at your chart and not be able to read what was written or mistake what was written down for another word. This could lead to inaccurate diagnosis and/or patient treatment.
Not only does EMR provide benefits for your practice, but it also does the same for your patients, too. By avoiding the errors that come with handwritten medical records, more accurate diagnosis and treatment can be given to ensure patient safety.
With the generation of patients getting younger, practices are embracing software that allows the patient more involvement through the use of patient portals. Patients can make payments, schedule appointments and access prescription information online, giving them more control over their healthcare.
EMR software also allows for quick and easy transferring of individual records between hospitals, pharmacies and labs. This seamless interaction makes for a smoother customer experience as well as provides your practice with all the necessary patient information. Users can easily navigate a patient’s medical history to find specific data rather than having to search through paper files.
By spending more time dealing with the patient and less time looking for past records and information, a practice can increase their efficiency while keeping customers happy with fewer time delays.
Tips When Transitioning
The advantages of using an EMR are seemingly unlimited, but implementing them can be a difficult task. The primary challenges that come with the transition include preparation, training, implementation costs and the lack of a user-friendly interface. That being said, once your practitioners become comfortable using an EMR, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, and the EMR should end up paying for itself in the long run.
Not all EMR software systems are the same, so it’s important to know your requirements and what you hope to accomplish when making your decision. Having a plan in place and recognizing your short- and long-term goals are the first steps toward a smooth transition.
Create a Plan
It’s crucial to include staff from each department in your practice to ensure a successful transition. Staff with varying roles can provide input and assure that nothing is forgotten during the conversion process. It’s smart to have everyone in your practice on the same page throughout the transition. Typically, department heads are given more access to assure the security of patient information and can make changes in the EMR to increase productivity and efficiency.
Another thing to think about is your time frame. Typically, implementing an EMR software can be done anywhere from a few months to over a year. There are likely going to be hiccups when adopting new software, but it’s important once you set your transition period that you stick to it. One way to make sure you accomplish this is by starting to plan early on and prepare for every stage.
Remember, it’s important that everyone involved has the same goal(s) in mind when transitioning. By sticking to your plan and time frame, everyone stays on the same page and problems can be worked through together.
Consider Your Practice
Depending on the size of your practice, converting paper records to electronic can be an expensive, time-consuming task. Whether you use current employees to scan documents or pay a third-party company to do so, somebody has to get paid for the time being consumed.
There are a number of factors to consider when transitioning to EMR. Depending on your budget and transition period, your business will have to decide which conversion method will be best for them, whether that’s back-entering data from paper to the EMR or scanning documents and images.
It’s a good idea to keep in mind your practitioners level of comfortability regarding technology. Depending on the career stage and age of your users, certain EMRs may be too sophisticated to use effectively. Don’t pay for a bunch of features if you have no intention of using them; you may find out that a cheap, basic EMR meets your needs for what you hope to accomplish.
One option is to only convert the information you need. This involves a hybrid approach of keeping paper files as well as updating new information to the EMR. This method may work well enough for a smaller practice, but most clinics will benefit more by completely transitioning over to EMR, especially in the years to come.
Destroy Medical Records
After you’ve converted files to an EMR, what’s to be done with the hundreds or thousands of paper medical records left to collect dust? Once you’re confident that the transition of data was successful, you can start to purge paper documents. This should be done in a manner to ensure nobody can tamper with any old documents, whether that be shredding, burning, etc.
Keep in mind that laws and requirements vary by state when it comes to how long medical records must be kept. If your practice is larger, make sure to find a method that’s cost effective. It’s also recommended to keep a record of what documents were destroyed and on what date.
As your practice’s goals evolve, you’ll need your EMR to do the same. Many software solutions are customizable and can grow with your practice to meet your changing needs. The more you use an EMR, the more you’ll understand and benefit from its capabilities. In turn, your workflow may need to be adjusted. As updates and changes come with your software, staff should be trained and refreshed accordingly.
EMR is changing the way practices go about their daily routines and increasing the level of patient care through more accurate treatment and diagnosis. With so many advantages for both your practice as well as the patient, you’re falling behind if you haven’t already switched to an EMR — plain and simple.
Remember, when choosing an EMR it’s important to know what your practice’s needs are; not all software is the same, so it’s your job to research and compare to find the best EMR for your healthcare organization.
Have you transitioned from paper to electronic medical records? What are some of the challenges or advantages you’ve seen? Let us know in the comments!