Due to a combination of forces related to both technological advancement and requirements under the Affordable Care Act, more medical practices and hospitals are transitioning to electronic health records (EHR). These systems can be expensive both to acquire and implement, however. Luckily, if your practice is working towards EHR implementation, there are many resources at your disposal, financial and otherwise. Here are some tips to help make your move from analog to digital a little smoother.
Financing Your EHR System
There are several costly components to EHR implementation. Some are concrete – you’ll need to invest in hardware and software to run your system – while other costs are more nebulous, related to transferring information, training staff, and handling the downtime between systems. There are a lot of different parts to the process. You won’t need to finance your EHR system entirely on your own, however. There are companies that offer loans and there are also tax benefits to investing in these systems. Even if you only lease your system, tax code generally views these lease expenses as business overhead. You can deduct overhead expenses, making EHR ultimately less expensive than it may seem at first glance. Of course, you can also deduct the purchase of an EHR system, and owning your own system can be a valuable investment over time. By purchasing your system outright, your practice can keep potential financing options open for other emergencies. If you have the cash, this can be the best way to go.
When you choose to transition from paper medical records to an EHR system, the most laborious part of the process is the initial implementation phase. During this phase you’ll need to get all of your paper files entered into the new system. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself juggling two different systems and likely losing out on important information in the meantime. Simply put, it’s hard to use two different systems simultaneously. Unfortunately, it can require a lot of extra labor on the part of practice staff to enter all of your patient information into the new system, and you may have to bring on additional temporary staff in order to get this task done. But it’s also vital that this process not be rushed because errors during the transcription process can cause miscommunication, confusion, and outright patient harm. This could open your practice up to malpractice claims, a risk amplified when incorrect information is copied and pasted repeatedly in a record.
Managing Digital Security
Another major concern when transitioning to an EHR system is digital security. It’s much easier to suffer a large-scale security breach when your information is digital than when it’s tucked away in hundreds of individual, scribbled files in your office. You’ll want to consult someone with digital security expertise who can help your firm with encryption and other necessary security practices. One easy security precaution that too few practices using an EHR system take is restricting user access to necessary files. When everything is stored in a digital system it’s very easy to simply grant users access to all areas. By restricting what sectors individual users can access, you reduce the likelihood of a HIPAA infraction.
In the face of all the challenges and obstacles to introducing EHR systems, the response from patients has been excellent. Overall patients are pleased with the increased access to their doctors and records produced by EHR systems. Most of these systems include patient portals that allow for digital messaging between doctors and patients and easy access to medical test results. This can make things easier for office staff who don’t have to field extra phone calls and for busy patients who aren’t widely available during office hours. In this regard, then, such systems are good for everyone. Whether you’re at the beginning of your EHR system transition or looking to improve staff practices, there’s always more to learn about how to use these systems more effectively. With most practices still in transition, best practices for these systems are still being developed, but for now, doctors and medical support staff alike are working diligently to provide the best and most technologically up-to-date care possible.