Shuffling papers may become a thing of the past for physicians, as they move their offices firmly into the computer age. Electronic medical records, or EMRs, offer greater efficiency and accuracy for the office, and a better standard of care for patients who may be treated by several specialists or move to a different town.
But making this transition can be extremely time-consuming for the physician and office personnel, taking focus away from actually caring for patients. The key in selecting and succeeding with EMR software is to choose the simplest application that will meet your needs.
If most medical practice management (MPM) applications offer pretty much the same feature set, just the opposite is true for EMR. There are many more EMR products, often with fewer features. Less features is not necessarily a bad thing, however. One American Hospital Association survey that found that almost 60% of physicians using EMR were using only 7 out of 15 functions.
Here are the most important features for an electronic medical records application:
- Patient history
- Clinical charting
- Lab orders and results
- Tracking patient referrals
- Insurer fee schedule
- Provider access to patient information from hospital, clinic, home
- Ability to integrate with other systems
- Transcription options
- Immunization history
You should be aware that implementation of EMR software doesn’t always go smoothly. A survey in 2005 by the Texas Medical Association showed that 48% of physicians who had deployed EMR were only “somewhat satisfied.” Why?
There are several reasons why you might be disappointed by your EMR switchover. One is simply that moving from one process (manual) to another (computerized) is a major undertaking and a big change in procedure for everyone. For it to work well, all the employees have to use it, and even embrace it.
At first, using the software will take more time, not less. Just familiarizing yourself with the process of using the EMR system means that it will take you more time to see each patient until you get used to it. In addition, to use the system properly, the examining physician’s attention is necessarily split between the patient and the form or template. Some physicians hate this distraction. There are also form templates to be developed or customized for each type of exam and each category of doctor, and that development is time-consuming and costly. It may take six months before you begin to see benefits in efficiency.
We offered some advice for making this transition go as smoothly as possible in Medical Practice Software: Tips for Success. The bottom line: Expect to invest more than just money in this process of converting and updating to a computerized system for your medical practice and patient records management.