Often, medical practice owners and healthcare providers believe that their existing electronic health record (EHR) and/or project management (PM) systems must be replaced. Common reasons include dissatisfaction with a disjointed clinical workflow, poor revenue cycle performance, too many steps, a multitude of distinct systems, and a disorganized patient schedule.
That is because most systems are configured and optimized to perform just “adequately.” As a result, workarounds, additional standalone systems, and a lack of training can erode practice performance and make everything more difficult over time. In addition, many systems were initially implemented abruptly without adequate planning and preparation. Finally, system updates are only beneficial if they are properly incorporated into the practice’s workflows; sadly, this is oftentimes not the case.
All these situations are extremely problematic, and it is understandable that users would want to start from scratch. However, transforming the practice may be more effective than replacing the EMR/PM system and can usually be accomplished in a three-step process.
1. Take a Deep Dive into the Data
The first step in practice transformation is to understand where the opportunities for tuning the practice lie. Start by reviewing your practice’s performance metrics against benchmark data to determine how your practice is performing compared to your peers. MGMA, AMGA, and Specialty Societies are all excellent sources for benchmarking data. When benchmarking, make sure the way you calculate your metrics aligns with the reference’s methodology.
Many EMR/PM systems have a practice performance dashboard of sorts. Review it and compare the metrics to the benchmark data. Other systems offer benchmark data in the system itself. Typically, you will gain directional information to help identify improvements.
2. Find Opportunities for Optimization
Often, in specialty practices, the EHR is not properly configured to meet the organization’s unique needs. As a result, the staff are not sufficiently trained to use the system effectively, workarounds are rampant, and in general the workflows of the practice are in disarray. Practice owners and administrators are often too close to see the individual issues and cannot see the path forward.
In these situations, the lowest hanging fruit is typically customizing encounter templates to align with the provider practice. Lack of integration with major labs and imaging vendors (depending on the specialty) is a huge waste of time and effort for the providers and staff. The cost savings in labor easily justify the investment for the integration of a busy practice.
On the practice management side, quick wins usually involve the use of patient scheduling templates and standardized appointment types. But the biggest win is patient self-scheduling on the practice’s patient portal. Benefits of a patient portal include:
- Improved Patient Satisfaction: Patients can book appointments conveniently and efficiently from home.
- Reduced Administrative Workload: Without a self-scheduling portal, staff at medical practices are required to schedule appointments manually.
- Real-Time Scheduling: Patients have access to real-time scheduling, which allows for quick and efficient appointment scheduling at any time of day.
- Reduced No-Shows: Patients receive reminders via phone or email for upcoming appointments, reducing the likelihood of no-shows – plus, patients can easily reschedule appointments, which speeds up the rescheduling process.
- Increased Revenue: Patients prefer to have the option of self-scheduling their appointments; as a result, medical practices that implement patient self-scheduling portals tend to see an increase in patient booking volume.
If cash flow or profitability is an issue, start by collecting and summarizing your current contacts. Many practices ignore this step. If you do not have current agreements, talk to your provider representative. If you have not compared your reimbursement to your contracted rates and Medicare allowables, particularly with your top five commercial payers, you should do so immediately. Variances are prevalent, and they are never addressed if the practice is unaware of them.
3. Consult with an EHR Expert
Once you have a better picture of your practice’s challenges, it is time to address them. Choose a consultant who can help you prioritize and will collaborate with you on changes. Sometimes the changes necessary are all internal to the practice. However, they often involve system vendors and outsourced components, such as a coding or revenue cycle management vendor.
A consultant can help address the necessary changes and develop a dashboard to track progress. Remember that activity does not necessarily mean improved performance. Do not spend a lot of time and money on fancy diagrams or lengthy narrative reports. Focus on the basics – patient intake, appointment scheduling, clinical workflow, charge capture/coding, claims submission, patient engagement, claims scrubbing, and A/R follow-up.
If you have multiple offices, are there major differences between locations? If so, learning why oftentimes uncovers practice-wide opportunities. Choose your consultants carefully; depth and breadth of experience matters.
The Grass Is Not Always Greener
The decision to replace your EHR should not be an easy one. Rather than starting from scratch, optimizing your existing EHR may be a better investment overall. Your staff is already familiar with it, and implementing upgrades and training initiatives could not only save you money spent on new software but also boost your team’s productivity and improve patient care. With a little effort and support from EHR consultants, your existing systems can be optimized, and you can get back to providing top-notch patient care.