Cutting Costs and Reaching Profitability with an EMR System

September 24, 2010
Dr. Thomas Dierkes

With government incentives becoming available and technology quickly evolving, the time is right for pediatric practices to adopt EMR systems.

The rate which technology is evolving, especially in the healthcare industry, is astounding—and one of the most crucial adoptions by healthcare organizations across the country is Electronic Medical Record (EMR) technology. Simply put, EMR systems save time and money for practices beyond anything available on the market.

At a single point of organization, clinics reduce costly errors. In line with green business and cutting costs, practices eliminate paper. With the increasing demand for data-at-your-fingertips, EMRs significantly speed the flow of information. Staff time spent sifting through papers, filling out forms by hand, mailing documents to insurance providers and performing other administrative tasks is nearly eliminated.

So why haven’t more pediatric practices been quick to adopt an EMR system? According to a 2009 SK&A Information Services survey, around 67% of physician offices do not use electronic records. The number is astounding, especially in the face of government incentives to adopt the new technology.

The upfront cost can be intimidating for a lot of clinics—especially ones looking into an EMR in order to cut costs. Professional and clerical training are other costs that seem to be stumbling blocks in the way of adoption by more pediatric clinics. Some healthcare organizations simply believe they benefit from an efficient paper system and don’t want to invest the time in changing their traditional standpoint.

Now, in response to ever-growing pressure on the healthcare industry, government incentives and rapidly evolving technology, the time is right for pediatric organizations across the country to adopt EMR systems. Some EMR systems are available at lower initial costs, and the software is becoming easier for non-technical personnel to manipulate while offering better customization. In fact, it seems healthcare organizations might already be recognizing the potential; global market research company Compass Intelligence recently estimated that US healthcare IT expenditures will see a $14 billion increase (up to $85 billion total) between 2010 and 2014.

If you take the plunge and jump on the EMR revolution, you will never consider moving back to the clutter and cost of paper.

Digging out of a financial hole

In early 2007, my practice, Rainbow Pediatrics in New Jersey, was facing a massive financial hole. At this point, we had already adopted an EMR system, but both the program and the vendor were giving us problems. When a staffer at the company sent us a letter explaining the program was actually a stolen copy of the MedInformatix EMR system, we knew who we would need to talk to get the practice back on track.

We were $250,000 in the hole when we finally contacted MedInformatix. Within a month, we were profitable; within a year, we had recouped all of our losses and made a profit. Now, with about 30 total staff members including seven physicians and seven nurses, we remain profitable.

In April 2007, we were literally on the brink of bankruptcy. MedInformatix saved us by giving us a 30-month interest-free loan of its EMR system. They even gave us the opportunity to return it if we didn’t like it. Fortunately for Rainbow Pediatrics, the system had everything we could possibly need.

The MedInformatix team came in to help us launch the program right away and helped us redo our billing system. We saw 80 patients with four physicians on the first day the system was implemented, with 20-25 people learning the program that same day. It literally took our staff 3-4 hours to learn the program; it was that easy. Students that come by the office are able to learn the program in just a couple of hours.

There have been days when we’ve seen more than 200 patients with only two nurses; the EMR system is scalable enough to handle any volume of patients we take on in a short period of time. We simply wouldn’t be able to do that using paper.

How it works

Entering patient and visit data and creating corresponding charts is simple with MedInformatix. We create unique identities for each patient, which enables us to call up forensic data from past visits at the click of a mouse button.

The MedInformatix EMR system actually fills forms for us. Universal forms for schools are inputted into the system, and the system pulls the data and fills the form out itself. When parents come and ask me to fill out a form, it’s no longer the time commitment it used to be.

One of the most important parts of running a successful clinic is collecting payments. With the help of eBilingual and other MedInformatix features, we’ve dramatically reduced our collection time to an average 2-3 week turnaround.

Since we adopted electronic data transmission, we haven’t had another lost chart. On flu clinic nights, we can see as many as 120 patients; every year, we give out around four thousand flu vaccines. During the flu season, the clinic must be moving at a fast pace, and for such a small staff, we are always able to document the vaccinations with expiration dates and lot numbers.

At the end of the day, no one has to go back and write notes. The program really shines during the flu vaccination clinics. When you can see 120 people, give them all injections and have it all documented in a space of two hours, the revenue brought in by the practice increases exponentially.

Because no two physicians are the same, perhaps the most important part of the MedInformatix EMR system is that it is completely customizable. Some of the physicians at Rainbow Pediatrics are a bit fussy about how they like to record data, and rightfully so. But the EMR system makes it possible to set up billing in a way that best suits your own work habits.

But customizability doesn’t end there; we’re able to do a lot of our own programming without a lot of technical knowledge.

For the future

While we’re enjoying many of the benefits after three years of using the MedInformatix EMR system, capabilities beyond what we’re currently using are still available to us. We’re still opening new doors.

Our plan is to go completely paperless next month. Over the last few months, we’ve been developing our own program for billing to handle the complexity of the process. The custom program creates a billing sheet based on what the physician enters. The data is automatically saved into a chart and neatly organized for billing purposes, and patients have the option to pay their bills online.

In the end, we still haven’t realized all of the rich benefits that an EMR system can offer to us—but as we grow and continue learning more about our practice and our patients, we expect that the MedInformatix EMR system will continue to grow with us.

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Dr. Thomas Dierkes is a board certified pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He completed his undergraduate degree in chemistry at Seton Hall University and attended medical school at the University of Health Science in Kansas City, MO. Dr. Dierkes performed his pediatric training at the Children's Hospital of New Jersey in Newark, NJ. He has been with Rainbow Pediatrics since 1997.