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Alternatives to electronic medical records

By Shardul Mehta.

If you’re not yet ready to take the plunge and get an Electronic Medical Records system, you’re not alone. Purchasing an EMR is still an expensive proposition, and it can be difficult to justify the return on investment either in the short-term or long-term. Plus, installation and training can take a while, which disrupts office workflow. Six month’s ago my son’s pediatrician implemented a new EMR system that included a change to the phone system. Even today the voice prompts ask callers to “please be patient while we implement these changes,” and the pediatrician tells me some of the staff is still getting familiar with using the system.

This is not to say that you should not get an EMR. The benefits of EMR are numerous and are being discussed openly throughout the industry. But we shall not dwell on them here. Suffice it to say that if your goal is to have a completely paperless office, and have a sophisticated charting and coding solution, an EMR is the way to go.

However, if you’re not quite ready to implement a full-scale EMR right now due to cost or time or both, yet, you would like to be able to automate certain aspects of your office—certain administrative and clinical processes, reduce some of the paperworkhere are some strategies and solutions you can adopt that will allow you to do this at a fraction of the cost of purchasing an entire EMR system. Many of these solutions can be created by using office productivity software, like Microsoft Office, or by asking your software vendor to make small modifications to your billing or practice management software.

Electronic Superbill

If your billing or practice management software is not already doing this, consider having some changes made so that your superbills/fee slips/encounter forms print the details of the patient’s last visit, such as diagnosis, procedure performed, and anything else that may be relevant.

We can take this one step further, and simply have an electronic superbill—that is, instead of filling out a paper superbill, have an electronic one pop up on your computer screen that allows you to select or enter the appropriate diagnosis and procedure codes, and even modify the charge. This way, the patient encounter and charge will automatically be posted to your billing system.

Document Generation via Templates

Office productivity software makes it easy to create templates for chart notes, referral forms, letters and other documentation and professional correspondence. To create a new document, you simply open the appropriate template, fill in the appropriate information, print, and save the new file.

For a slightly more sophisticated and integrated solution, you can have these templates built into your billing or practice management software. Click a button to pull up the appropriate template and type away. Documents can be attached to a patient account or even an insurance account, if needed.

Electronic Documentation

Some state insurers require certain specialties to submit specific forms when submitting claims. Again, you can either create templates for these forms using your office productivity software, or have them integrated into your practice management or billing software. With the latter, data-entry screens can be made that enable you or your staff to enter the required information and then print out the appropriate forms already filled out.

Electronic Notes Entry

Primary care specialists can follow the same techniques for keeping track of vitals, like height, weight, etc. Either create templates using your office productivity software, or have simple data-entry screens integrated into your existing practice management software.

If you decide to implement any or all of the above solutions via your practice management or billing software, be sure to ask your software vendor to provide you with an integrated means for retrieving these various pieces of data so you can view all of a patient’s information in a consolidated form without having to click around multiple places within the software.

Prescription Tracking

Your practice management software can easily track the medications you have prescribed to your patients. In fact, many software applications already have this feature.

Recalls, Follow-Ups and Reminders

Even if you don’t have patient appointment scheduling software, your practice management software may enable you to set up recalls, enter follow-up notes, set up reminders, and even print recall reports and reminder letters or postcards. The system can be configured to flag certain accounts or notes so they automatically alert the appropriate staff person at the proper time.

Notes Dictation

In the last ten years, voice recognition software has become more sophisticated, more accurate and more affordable. The software can be integrated into your practice management or billing software, and the patient notes that you dictate can be easily linked to appropriate patient account. Using the software, you can retrieve patient notes and edit or correct them.

Scanning Solutions

Minimally, you can scan patient notes into your computer and organize them for later retrieval. You can either organize them yourself manually (for example, set up appropriate files and folders in your computer), or have them integrated into your practice management software (if you have one) and have them automatically retrievable when you pull up the patient’s account. You can also scan, store and retrieve lab results in a similar fashion. You may use a scanner or even a digital camera. This solution may be crude, but it does take you a step forward toward a paperless office.

Online Solutions

Many health plans and payers allow providers to sign into their web sites to check a patient’s eligibility, request or inquire about referrals, and check pre-certification for services and medication. For example, you can go www.aetna.com and follow the link for “Doctors & Hospitals” to view the online services available to you through Aetna’s web site. Similarly, many other insurance providers are making these services available to you online for little or no cost. You can bookmark the web sites of such insurance providers in your web browser.

Mobile Solutions

Mobile solutions, such as laptops, tablet PCs and handheld devices, are becoming more popular among health care providers. The Internet, wireless technology and improvements in security are enabling providers to move about freely while still being able to retrieve and enter essential information into their computer systems through their mobile devices.

Fortunately, you don’t need an EMR to implement a mobile solution into your practice. Your mobile device can be configured to retrieve information from your practice management or billing software, such as details of a patient’s last visit. Furthermore, if you implement one or more of the solutions above, you can access the same information on your mobile device, as well as be able to enter data.

Many other solutions and strategies are available. Just look around your office workflow and see what may be automated. You may not have the time, resources or budget to implement an EMR system now, but that shouldn’t stop you from being able to move toward being paperless and electronic. What’s great about each of the above solutions is that they take advantage of the resources you already have. Each of these solutions is low-cost, yet effective enough to make a positive difference in your practice, and each takes you a step further in making your office paperless.

Shardul Mehta leads marketing & business development efforts at InfoQuest Systems, Inc., providers of medical billing solutions, including medical billing software, medical practice management software, HIPAA compliant solutions, and billing services.

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