Operating a nephrology practice and caring for patients with a complex, ever-evolving set of chronic medical conditions is incredibly challenging. In recent years, it has become even more so due to healthcare reform and new government regulations. While the intent of many of these regulations is to ultimately improve the healthcare system and enhance patient care, they can seem daunting to already overburdened and under-resourced healthcare professionals.
As nephrologists have seen this complexity grow and their day-to-day schedules become busier than ever, many have been hesitant to introduce new technology and processes into their practice. For a variety of reasons — mostly falling into the categories of being too time consuming, expensive, distracting and/or difficult — they have chosen to backburner the adoption of new technology and instead focus on what they excel at: providing the best possible patient care.
While these reasons may seem legitimate, many are misconceptions — and physicians are missing tremendous opportunities to improve their practices starting immediately in 2011. Whether considered independently or in aggregate, these opportunities should prompt physicians to not only reassess the potential of new healthcare technology, but embrace it as a means to optimize their care of patients. Specifically, physicians should be considering an electronic health records (EHR) solution that can not only streamline operations and improve practice outcomes, but also enable them to spend more time caring for patients.
While there are many benefits and opportunities, here are five of the best reasons to consider an EHR now:
1. You can qualify for up to $44,000 in potential government Medicare EHR incentives by attesting to “meaningfully using” a certified EHR starting in 2011. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) authorizes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide reimbursement incentives for eligible professionals and hospitals that are successful in becoming “meaningful users” of certified EHR technology during a specified EHR reporting period — and the first federal stimulus incentive payments start in 2011. By using an EHR in a meaningful way (as defined by ARRA) for a minimum of 90 days in 2011, you can meet the initial “meaningful use” requirements for this year and qualify for up to $44,000 through the Medicare EHR incentive program with continual meaningful use over the following four years. In addition to this incentive, by implementing an EHR now, you can avoid the financial penalties that the government will impose beginning in 2015 for physicians not using a certified EHR.
2. You can choose an EHR that is nephrology specific and customized to your needs.You specialize in kidney disease, so it only makes sense that your EHR should be specialized too, providing the tools and templates you need to efficiently deliver superior care to your patients. A generic EHR will likely not meet the very specific needs of your nephrology practice and will therefore require more of your and your staff’s time and effort.
When choosing an EHR solution, remember that beyond the basics, not all EHRs are created equal. Look for an EHR vendor that has developed its system from the ground up in collaboration with nephrologists. Next, determine whether the EHR has the flexibility and breadth of functionality to meet the unique needs of your specialty. It should include nephrology-specific templates for comprehensive and follow-up visits in your office, as well as for ESA therapy. Equally important, it should allow you to function easily in locations outside your office, including dialysis centers, hospitals, vascular access centers and surgical centers. The right EHR will not only bring optimum value to your nephrology practice; it can bring more efficiency to your work and more balance to your life.
3. You can use your EHR to help you track, benchmark and improve your practice performance. With a well-designed EHR, you can review patient data in an easy-to-track format and compare data points across disease states and patients. In addition, an intelligently designed EHR can act as a second set of eyes on your patients. Look for a disease management protocol that will help you identify where risks exist or improvements can be made, thus ensuring that you don’t miss any opportunities to provide the most comprehensive care to your patients — and to bill appropriately for that care. Finally, since an EHR allows you to easily access, understand and analyze data, it will prove invaluable in improving decision making and decision support.
4. You can make your practice data as mobile as you are. Nephrologists are by nature constantly on the move between their practice and dialysis centers, hospitals and vascular access centers, not to mention the work done at home following up and covering for your partners. By selecting a web-based EHR versus an EHR that must be installed on your office computer, you can access patient information wherever you have a computer and an Internet connection, and act on that information immediately. With an EHR, gone are the days of transporting bulging files home to finish chart reviews or delivering small scraps of paper to billing staff after rounds. A web-based EHR enables you to work the way you want anywhere, anytime.
5. You can rid your practice of excess paperwork, save money on the costs associated with paper records and transform record-storage areas into potentially revenue-generating spaces. An EHR will let you clear out the glut of paper records that may fill your practice while ensuring that vital patient data is available electronically in mere moments. When selecting an EHR, keep in mind that those that are “web-based” do not require servers, manual updates or technology upgrades in your practice. By removing those potential expenses and converting paper records into electronic files, you may experience cost reductions resulting from the need for fewer servers, less paper and less space devoted to storing files than with a server system. And you now have the option of converting that freed-up space into a patient care/treatment area that can increase the financial health of your practice.
Implementing an EHR in 2011 will give you the opportunity to maximize government incentive dollars. Equally important, it will also provide you with the tools and resources to begin improving your practice’s efficiency and overall level of care, and enable you to establish and reach your long-term goals.
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