EHR Implementation--Are the Benefits for Real?

Physician's Money Digest, May 2007, Volume 14, Issue 5

Health care luminaries are advocating for rapid adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) with the consensus that EHRs can deliver clinical and administrative benefits. What has not grabbed headlines is the reality that our nation’s physicians are expected to foot the bill for EHR implementation. Some physicians, however, will benefit from the recent changes to the Stark laws, which allow hospitals to provide health information technology to physicians without running afoul of the law. Physicians face significant cash outlays for system acquisition as well as intangible expenses for lost productivity and protracted implementation schedules imposed by EHR adoption. The toll on physician practices is virtually unlimited. Physician practices are neither ready nor equipped for rapid adoption of EHRs, but the call for paperless chart management persists. The most attractive option is a document management solution that allows practices to go paperless, maintain patient charts electronically, and get started immediately—at a fraction of the cost of an EHR. Today, document management technology is so robust that doctors can concurrently:

• Implement a digitized patient record system with 24/7 access to data.

• Take advantage of e-prescribing.

• Improve productivity.

• Enjoy a more robust paycheck, additional free time, and improved levels of patient service.

All this can be accomplished without imposing responsibilities for data entry or asking doctors to change the way that they practice medicine.

There is also tangible return on investment that includes elimination and/or consolidation of several medical records employees; more efficient billing that results in lower accounts receivable days; more efficient nurses; reduced paper, toner, and chart expenses; reduction in courier costs; elimination of off-site chart storage expenses; and retooling office space previously used to house paper charts.

Physicians can bring straightforward efficiencies to their health care enterprise with the adoption of intuitive point and click software that is simple, reliable, and secure. Document management and workflow solutions specifically designed for health care enable medical practices to eliminate paper charts and generate an immediate return on investment. This solution has been proven to enhance productivity, reduce overhead, and improve the quality of life for physicians— without breaking the bank or the back of the doctors.

While President Bush has set a goal for most Americans to be covered by EHRs by 2014, doctors are reluctant to make the investment. Physicians are concluding that document management can get their practices to the goal line without the angst and expense of an EHR. Document management is the next logical step in the march toward an EHR, making doctors more comfortable with technology and better positioned to adopt an EHR in the future.

In addition to cost factors, EHRs impose massive implementation challenges, including the following:

• EHR technology is difficult to master. Physicians and their office staffs find that the systems are convoluted and require protracted training.

• Proper training taxes the time—and patience—of every member of the practice.

• EHRs require physicians to change the way that they document patient visits. Many doctors find that the EHR detracts from the “face time” that they have with patients, creating patient dissatisfaction and impacting the doctor– patient relationship.

• Doctors dislike handling data entry, which is a requirement for EHRs.

Evan D. Steele has served as the CEO of SRSsoft since founding the company in 1997. A unique opportunity to reorganize and manage a booming New York City medical practice provided his entrance into the health care industry. In 1997, the practice was facing significant problems with chart access and could not find a user-friendly, paperless office software solution. In response, Steele created SRSsoft’s Chart Manager™.