Cheat Sheet

Electronic Health Records For Dummies

From Electronic Health Records For Dummies by Trenor Williams, Anita Samarth

Get ready to take the leap into the paperless world with electronic health records (EHRs). The reach of EHRs is wide, affecting clinicians, physicians, hospitals, office staff, labs, billing and insurance companies, and even pharmacies. An EHR can streamline your workflow and clear up both physical and mental space for everyone in the office.

Replacing Paper Records with an Electronic Health Record, or EHR

The electronic health record gives you an opportunity to improve the patient experience. Because the EHR has the ability to manage most aspects of your practice's everyday operations, the physician and staff workflow is streamlined, allowing for more quality time spent with patients. Check out this table to compare a paper-based system with EHR:

Paper-Based System EHR System
Paper charts are easy to misfile. Electronic files are fully searchable and backed up on a server.
Charts rarely include preventive care guidelines, which are often complex and difficult to commit to memory. Electronic charts are linked to preventive care guidelines and updated as information changes.
Identification of patient characteristics is often difficult and time-consuming. Patient characteristics are fully searchable and linked to patient history.
Drug recalls are difficult to communicate and cross-reference with affected patients. Patient files can be flagged for drug recalls and updates.
Difficult to use for chronic disease management. Patient groups can be set up and managed.
Time must be taken to pull charts and refile. Charts are updated and e-filed instantly.
Handwritten or voicemail appointment reminders have to be sent each day by a staff member. Automatic appointment reminders are sent from the EHR.
Scheduling is coordinated by staff member. Scheduling can be automated.
Insurance cards are copied and the information keyed in. Insurance cards are scanned and instantly put into system.
A staff person communicates about billing issues. The EHR system sends billing reminders.
Clinical encounter information often is transcribed and retyped into chart, often causing human error. Chart forms remove opportunity for human error.

What the EHR Can Do for Your Practice

If you're wondering what the full electronic health record system (EHR) experience is, here's a brief look at what you can do with all the necessary recordkeeping, charting, prescribing, and communicating that your clinic or practice goes through each day:

  • Enter and access all patient information directly into one, easy-to-access file.

  • Integrate all major components of clinical practice in both the short-term (why a patient has scheduled a visit) to long-term (figuring out a treatment plan).

  • Prevent errors due to handwriting or miscommunication.

  • Allow approved stakeholders to access patient records, both in-office and remotely.

  • Create a more streamlined workflow.

  • Prescribe drugs without making time-consuming phone calls or managing faxes.

  • Utilize clinical decision support functionality to improve quality and patient safety such as alerts, reminders, documentation templates, clinical guidelines, order sets, patient education materials, patient reporting, and quality dashboards.

  • Prescribe drugs without making time-consuming phone calls or managing faxes.

  • Engage patients in the management of their own care.

  • Create long-term treatment and health management plans for patients.

  • Manage groups of patients.

  • Flag patient files for drug recalls, drug interactions, or helpful follow-up suggestions.

  • Organize communications and messages among everyone in the practice.

  • Integrate with billing and claims data or systems.

Surveying the EHR Vendor Landscape

Deciding on a vendor to set you up with an EHR (electronic health record) system calls for research. To know thyself (and thy practice), do a little recon and see which EHR vendors that other practices are using and why. Ask questions, and keep a running list of characteristics you hope to find in a vendor partner. Try these tactics:

  • Talk with your specialty society and see if they have tools to help narrow your choices or provide specific recommendations of an EHR or two.

  • Check with the hospitals in your area to see if they are either supporting one EHR or are planning their own implementation.

  • Discuss options with your local colleagues to see which EHR they are using, how they like it, and how they made their choice of EHR.

Addressing EHR Vendor Viability

The electronic health record industry is growing rapidly. And with so many EHR vendors in the marketplace, many companies will either fold or be acquired and therefore affect their existing customer base. So, you need to inquire about the vendor's viability in this competitive healthcare landscape. Ask the vendor or conduct your own recon to find out the following information:

  • How long has the vendor been in business?

  • How many practices do they currently support?

  • Are there any plans for merging or being acquired by another vendor? (You likely won't get a straight answer but it's worth asking.)

  • How many sales in the last 12 months? What percentage of growth is that? Are they getting bigger?

  • What's the average length of time their staff has been with the company?

You want and need this relationship to be a partnership between you and the vendor so make sure that your partner is going to be around for you.

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