Just as fax machines became a standard in the 1970s, and computers and cell phones ubiquitous in the 1990s, electronic medical records will be the standard in the near future. Like it or not, unless you are retiring or your practice will be closing in the next few years, an electronic medical records system is in your future. The question is, are you ready for it?
How long does it take for your office to find a paper chart for a phone call? How long do you stay after seeing patients to dictate progress notes? How easily can you find the latest lab results on the patient you are seeing, and graph the trend?
If you are like most practices, the time wasted with routine activities such as the above in a paper-based world greatly exceeds the time it will take to do the same tasks in an electronic one. The ability to document fully (increasing reimbursement in the process), and to look up information quickly and remotely (from home or hospital) improves your ability to provide quality care. Expectations from patients are also changing, with an always-accessible and instant response mentality now pervasive in the population at large.
So, given all of that, you think it is time to consider putting an Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system in your office. But, is your office really ready?
How many physicians are in the office? Are there any who have said something along the lines of “over my dead body” when you talk about automating the office? Will the office staff mutiny if something new is foisted upon them?
What is the office layout like? Will adding fixed computers work, or would tablet PCs be needed with a wireless network? Is there room for a proper computer room for servers (if you choose a client-server environment)?
Will your budget permit purchase / lease / subscription of only a basic system, or a more full-featured EMR? Who will be responsible for maintaining your system, doing data back-ups and disaster planning?
Understanding the full impact of an EMR on your office is critical to success. Implementing an EMR will radically change the workflows, and you need to know how life will change to properly understand the full nature of that impact on your life.
Properly navigating these questions to arrive at the answer for your practice can be done with due diligence on your part. You may choose to use a consultant, but the consultant can only help you with the decisions, not make the decisions for you. Even after selecting the best EMR vendor for your practice, successful implementation will require operational changes that may include altering your physical plant or personnel. Examing your current situation may lead to the hard fact that your office is not yet ready for an EMR.
Ultimately, an EMR is likely in your future. Knowing where on the path to an EMR your practice falls now will allow you to make appropriate and informed decisions to make the implementation a smooth one, whenever it happens.
The author, Michael McCoy, MD, FACOG, is CEO of Physician Technology Services, Inc., a consulting firm based in Nashville that is focused on EMR selection and deployment, optimizing office operations with Health Information Technology, as well as planning and support for data and disaster recovery.