EMR's Impact on Practice

Choosing the right EMR is a strategic decision with significant, long term ramifications on the practice. Taking a holistic approach to selecting an EMR solution improves chances of successful implementation of the system and maximizes the return on investment. Here are some of the payoffs you can expect from your investment in an EMR solution.

EMR can add to a practice's bottom line in the following ways:

Decrease lost revenue. Accurate coding is directly tied to revenue. Industry research indicates that inaccurate coding often causes losses ranging from 3% to 15% of a practice's annual revenue. Decreasing this lost revenue can have an enormous impact on the bottom line of any practice. Because it facilitates complete documentation for every patient visit, EMR can actually increase reimbursement. With the use of templates and auto-text insertion, physicians can easily and fully document every note.

Participate in quality reporting and pay for performance programs. Automating data collection and quality reporting gives practices greater leverage when negotiating contracts with healthcare payers and opportunities to participate in pay for performance programs.

Increase physician productivity. Because EMR expedites record keeping, many physicians are able to see more patients in a day. As a result, practices are able to generate more revenue with the same fixed costs in the same amount of time.

An EMR system benefits the patient as well. Some systems produce increased efficiency and higher quality documentation while others involve automated checks and reminders to assist a physician in providing optimum care. Look for EMR's to:

Improve chart quality. In electronic form, all notes, documentation and prescriptions are access able by more than one person in a clinic situation or if the physician if they are not in the office. And most EMR systems can automatically flag unsigned notes to make sure that all the charts are maintained across all providers in the practice.

Optimize health maintenance. Computerized checks and reminders serve to optimize health maintenance because relevant items can be automatically flagged or even searched across the entire patient database. Important patient information can be provided at the time of documentation. Physicians also find it easier to engage patients more actively when information is at their fingertips. Graphical representations can aid in-office education. Patient handouts can be printed right at the point of care for less cost and delivered to the patient immediately.

Improve medication management. The electronic record ensures accuracy when selecting medications from a drug database. Prescriptions are automatically updated in the patient's chart notes. Some EMR vendors use a drug-utilization-review feature to screen for potential drug therapy risks and print patient education information. Any potential drug-to-drug or allergic reactions are automatically flagged. In the case of a drug recall, the entire patient database can be searched for all affected patients in a few seconds.

In addition to financial savings, EMR also creates savings in terms of human resources. It can:

Save time and increase efficiency. The familiar scenario of staff members frantically searching the office for a particular chart is completely eliminated with electronic records. Because EMR makes records easy to locate, the increased efficiency can be significant.

Access is also enhanced. Paper records mean that only one person at a time may physically handle the paper chart. For instance, if a pharmacy calls while the chart is being used or waiting to be filed, the person taking the call cannot access the information. However, when records can be called up on screen, all appropriate staff members can access the information whenever and wherever they need it—even from a home computer.

Pulling charts, undoing them, copying them, and putting them back together requires both physical resources and time. Some offices also use outside copy services. EMR enables staff members simply to click and print whenever records are requested.

Enable fewer employees to do more. Human resource costs, including staff salaries and outsourced transcription expenses, are typically a large part of office overhead. Many EMR offices are able to do more with fewer people. Cost savings in this area are often a significant factor in achieving a positive return on investment. Even if practices do not downsize immediately, they may find that they can grow the business without increasing the number of staff members. Likewise, as employees leave through attrition, these workers may not need to be replaced.

Both large and small offices can realize this increased efficiency. Although the smaller offices must have a minimum number of support staff, on average, EMR-equipped offices simply require fewer full-time employees to support the same number of physicians. Practices with an EMR system in place report two to two and a half full-time employees per physician, compared with an industry average of four. That is a significant saving per doctor.

Enhance communication. Better communications mean more efficiency. Medical practices with EMR see a marked reduction in phone messages because the charts are always instantly available and many of the critical messages are handled electronically, without a need to be on the phone at the same time. Additionally, when electronic records are instantly available, offices have fewer call-backs from pharmacies, significantly reducing staff time spent handling those calls.

For many physician practices, the improved efficiency and actual cost savings are more than enough to justify the investment in EMR. From an economic perspective, many doctors find that their bottom line is a net positive in the very first year following an EMR investment.

From a personal standpoint, EMR can improve the quality of life for the doctors. For example, record signing no longer requires the physical presence of the physician but can be done electronically from home or office. Many technology-enabled doctors use the additional free time to improve their lifestyle or work-life balance.

There are multiple ways EMR can reduce overhead and increase savings in physical resources.

Reduce cost of materials and storage. Physical resources include the costs of buying chart materials, copying, paper, ink, etc. Within the medical records industry, it is estimated that the costs associated with maintaining a paper record average $3 per medical chart. In addition to the file folders, there is the paper and printer toner.

The physical space required for record storage is usually one of the more significant costs associated with keeping paper files. The cost of office space is a significant part of overhead, and the cost per square foot to store filing cabinets is enormous. Off-site storage costs must be counted as well. When a physician's office does not have to store physical records, office space normally rented for record storage can be used for revenue-generating examination rooms and offices. Or the extra square footage doesn't have to be rented at all, thus allowing the same size office staff to fit into a less expensive office.

Lower or eliminate transcription costs. Some offices that rely on staff or outsourced transcriptionists devoted solely to medical records discover a 50% to 75% reduction in medical records expenses after adopting EMR. Where transcription costs typically range from $300 to $1,000 per month per physician, savings from EMR can be significant. Some offices eliminate transcription costs altogether by having physicians enter all data directly into the EMR system. However, even if some or all of a practice's physicians continue to use transcription, these costs can still be lowered, because EMR makes in-house transcription much more efficient.

Of course, savings depend on the amount the practices are currently spending on staff dealing with medical records, including outside transcriptions.

The EMR is a transforming technology which allows a practice to decrease overhead, improve efficiency, increase revenue, enhance patient care, and even improve quality of life for physicians. To obtain the solution that's right for your practice, consult your IT provider. Look for a whole solution that will integrate seamlessly with the practice management solution you are currently utilizing to begin realizing the many benefits of an EMR.