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INSIGHT

Should your practice invest in medical billing software?

By Aiden Spencer  bio

There has been considerable debate among physicians about whether or not it is beneficial to get an EHR (electronic health record). If your practice is having this debate, let’s evaluate the benefits and problems associated with an EHR and see if one is right for you. [Full disclosure: I have abundant experience in the field because I am working for a company that develops EHRs, so my views might be a little biased in favor of EHRs.]

The cons

First, let’s look at five common concerns expressed by physicians:

  1. Productivity: One of the most striking problems that many physicians are facing is a decline in productivity. Although the goal of the EHR is to ultimately increase revenue and productivity, this does not always happen right from the start. A study from the University of California found that in the initial period, productivity is likely to go down as much as 25% to (in some cases) 33%. In the first few weeks (longer in certain cases) a practice can expect such a decline in productivity as the staff members familiarize themselves with the software.
  1. Delays: An initial decline in productivity is the least of the problems. In some cases, EHRs can cause delays in documentation as well, especially in the initial phase. With an EHR, there is more documentation that is required on part of the physicians before and after the patient visit. This has its benefits of course, as an abundance of details ensures that nothing is left out. From a physician’s point of view, this richness in detail could result in justifying billing at a higher level of service. However, the higher volume of documentation causes a delay in the processing. There is also more room for error if a physician waits until the end of the day to close notes.
  1. Initial costs: One of the biggest drawbacks of an EHR is the initial startup cost, and the overall expense of it. Many physicals have suggested that there is no point in investing such a large sum of money. The physicians must pay for the software, hardware, IT support, training, and a lot more, which causes many doctors to rethink about the whole idea.
  1. Communication drawbacks: The whole idea behind the EHR software was to make sure that down the line there could be inter-dependence between hospitals, and sharing of patient data. But if the EHRs cannot interoperate, this becomes a problem.

    Even when an EHR can interoperate, there is no face-to-face discussion between physicians, and one has to rely on the information given. This lack of communication may lead to problems if a physician is unable to express concerns they have with a certain complication.

  1. Updates: Another problem is the constant need for software updates, many of which need to be paid for by the physician. This not only increases the cost to the practice, but the hidden charges may be disruptive to the practice.

The pros

It is true that there are several potential problems with going electronic; however, it is also important to look at the other side. And in my opinion, there is no doubt that in the long run EHR software will provide substantial benefits for the entire industry.

  1. An EHR can improve productivity: During the implementation period, practices may experience in a drop in productivity. But that’s temporary. Initially, delays occur because most physicians are not experts as far as information technology is concerned. However, as users become more familiar with the software, the work flow actually begins to improve. In fact, in terms of work flow and efficiency, EHRs actually improve a practice’s capability. This is especially true if the EHR you have has a patient portal.
  1. An EHR can improve patient communications: A patient portal is convenient for the patients and helps a practice be more efficient and productive. This function allows the patients to not only fill in their health information before the appointment, but it also helps save time during an appointment. Prescription refills, lab test results, and appointment timings can all be done using the portal. This in turn helps in improving communication with the patient and frees up time for the staff.
  1. You don’t need to go big: For very small practices who cannot afford EHR or those who do not want to make their workflow completely automated, there are other options, such as lite EHRs or online cabinets. However, with the changes coming about in 2017, for most practices it is very important to invest in EHR.
  1. An EHR will help a practice prepare for change: There are going to be significant changes in the healthcare industry in 2017. The changes have already started with the ending of the grace period that was allowed by the CMS for ICD-10 codes. No longer can unspecified codes be used. Already there is danger of claim denials rising. Preparation should consist of complying with the regulations, this means achieving meaningful use, and HIPPA compliance. With MACRA and MIPS coming, and the CPS system starting as early as 2017 (although the actual system will kick in 2019), the healthcare industry needs to be ready. With a medical billing software that automatically updates accordingly to the new rules and regulations, your practice can rest assured knowing that it has taken the necessary steps to comply with the rules.

Conclusion

To avoid most of the problems stated above, there is one simple solution: make sure that your service provider is a recognizable company.

Productivity is bound to rise in the long run as physicians and staff members get used to operating the EHR. Apart from productivity, there is going to be an overall increase in patient care. The whole industry is going electronic and the longer a practice waits, the harder it will be to stay afloat.


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