EMRs: Taking Back Control of Your Office

Physician's Money Digest, August 2007, Volume 14, Issue 8

The push for electronic medical record (EMR) systems is somewhat misleading. The vision of EMR implies that we are just making paper medical records electronic, right? Anyone who has installed an EMR system wished that it would be that easy. The change to an EMR system is a dramatic change from the way you were trained and how you are used to practicing medicine. It is a shift toward computer-guided and computer-supported health care delivery.

Indeed, salespeople and medical informatics folks will tell you that it is the workflow changes that make or break a system. But workflow changes cause disruption and sometimes create even discontent among partners. So when you embark on a journey toward an EMR, be aware that documentation is much easier and faster with paper. This is the big secret: Indeed, for most physicians, documenting with computers will take a little longer than it used to, at least initially. It is the workflow changes that can save time, and in some cases—if done right—it can indeed save money as well.

We have asked hundreds of physicians who have had EMR systems installed what they consider the main benefit gained. Some have increased their revenues by reducing lost charges. Others have saved big by introducing speech recognition systems. Some practices have increased their competitiveness. Patients, too, are affected; some have reportedly switched physicians for the convenience of e-mail correspondence over traditional phone tag. But it is not just a question of attracting more patients through computer communication. Increasing the number of referrals can make a big difference in revenue. If you can guarantee referring physicians that your notes will be sent to them, let’s say, within an hour after the patient leaves the office, you may see an increase in referrals. Adopting an EMR system can also improve your quality of life. Many physicians found that just being able to work remotely is worth the EMR investment.

But there is one huge benefit everyone attributes to the installation of EMRs: It will get you total control of your practice. Physicians have given up control during the past few decades. You have to wait for the chart to be found in order to return a phone call. You see patients on their next visit before documentation of their previous visit has been added to their record. You can ask the computer to identify which patients are on a drug that has just been recalled. These are just examples. With an EMR, there is no more waiting for charts, no more searching for information, no more practicing blindly. Information is at your fingertips, wherever and whenever you want or need it.