Why a Lack of Outcomes Tracking is an EMR Dealbreaker

If you’ve been searching for a while, you probably know that a cloud-based, therapy-specific EMR solution is the way to go. You also might appreciate the importance of added benefits like built-in compliance safeguards and ICD-10 coding capabilities, billing and RCM services, and comprehensive scheduling and business reporting functionality. But, there’s one more factor you should be considering—the rehab therapy software X-factor, so to speak: outcomes tracking.

Why is outcomes tracking such a big deal? Well, at the patient level, measuring progress has always been integral to providing the best possible care. Otherwise, it’s tough to know whether the treatment you’re providing is actually working. But, with the advent of technology, PTs and OTs now have the opportunity to leverage the information they record on a larger scale—one that’ll help move the entire profession forward and ensure rehab therapists survive and, more importantly, thrive in the face of a rapidly changing healthcare payment landscape.

Now, the word “data” often carries a negative connotation, especially in the rehab therapy world. That’s because historically, payers have been the owners of that data—which means they’ve used it to justify reduced payments for physical therapy services. But now that therapists have the power to compile their own data, they have a chance to tip the scale in their favor—if they track that data in the right way, that is.

Healthcare reform initiatives are pushing all providers—rehab therapists included—to deliver higher quality care at a lower cost, all while achieving higher levels of patient satisfaction. It’s the so-called triple aim, and it’s the driving force behind the industry-wide shift to value-based payment methodologies. Soon, the outcomes your patients achieve will have a direct impact on the amount of payment you receive. And you can help make that impact a positive one by:

  • Tracking your own outcomes data—rather than leaving yourself beholden to the data payers bring to the negotiation table.
  • Using an outcomes tracking platform that will help you compile and analyze that information in a way that’s digestible and meaningful.
  • Supporting your case for higher payment rates with results that are applicable across the entire healthcare spectrum (i.e., by using outcome measurement tools that are specialty-agnostic).

Now, the term “data” might conjure up not-so-rosy visions of complex formulas and spreadsheets. In reality, though, you’re probably already halfway to the data collection finish line—and you might not even know it. Because if you use outcome measurement tools to assess patient progress, then you are, in fact, collecting data. So, why not put that information to use beyond your clinic walls?

Here’s another tidbit you might not know: there are EMR solutions out there that allow you to complete—and track the results of—outcome measurement tools directly within your documentation. These platforms even generate easy-to-read reports that tell you how your clinic is performing at the individual therapist level, at the regional level, and even at the national level. This allows you to assess and fine-tune your own clinical processes and approaches to ensure you’re always providing the best possible care. More than that, though, it allows you to prove your value to payers, referring providers, and healthcare consumers using cold, hard facts.

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So, if you’re in the market for a new EMR—or if you’re simply evaluating your current one—integrated outcomes tracking capability certainly should be one of the boxes on your checklist. That way, you can be sure your EMR isn’t just your practice’s Mr./Ms. Right Now—but its forever soulmate.


Dishing on Big Data: Information Exchange and the Future of Health Care

When it comes to life in the modern world, data reigns supreme. Whether you care to admit it—or even think about it—the fact is, you cannot escape the influence of data. And in some cases, that’s a good thing. No, I’m not talking about the discount offer for your favorite restaurant that suddenly appears on your Facebook news feed just minutes after you’ve perused the menu online—though that’s definitely a data benefit, too. In this article, though, I want to focus on the benefits of big data with respect to health care—in terms of cost, quality, and efficiency.

If you’re a healthcare provider, there’s a good chance you’re already helping lay the foundation for a very bright—and data-driven—healthcare future. That’s because the government and other healthcare stakeholders already have implemented a variety of programs and systems—like PQRS and ICD-10—aimed at promoting quality data collection. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. As the US continues to make strides toward achieving the healthcare “triple aim”—that is, the nationwide push toward better access, lower cost, and improved accountability in health care—providers can expect data to step into an even bigger role in the delivery of, and payment for, their services.

Of course, you can’t have a conversation about data without mentioning technology. To return to the food theme, if data is the basket full of raw ingredients, then technology is the oven that turns those ingredients into something useful (and delicious). And that’s where EMR comes into the picture—er, kitchen. Because in today’s healthcare landscape, EMR isn’t just a tool for documentation; it’s a means of participating in—and benefitting from—the collective effort to amass meaningful information that has the potential to:

  • foster evidence-based practice;
  • improve patient outcomes; and
  • uncover trends—both globally and regionally—that influence the efficacy of care.

But, for those things to happen, providers cannot use their EMR systems in isolation. More importantly, EMRs cannot be designed solely for isolated use. To stay relevant in a value-driven healthcare system, EMRs must allow for interoperability—that is, the ability for different systems and organizations to exchange information, and thus, work together for an overarching purpose. In a healthcare context, this means successful, seamless data transmission across all healthcare platforms. This allows a patient’s entire care team to have access to up-to-date information about the patient and his or her treatment progress—making care delivery much more efficient and effective. It has the potential to take care quality to a whole new level—not to mention reinforce physical therapy’s place on the overall care continuum.

So, if interoperability isn’t on your EMR vendor’s roadmap—or even its radar—then it might be time to explore other options. That said, the US, as a country, still has a few significant hurdles to overcome in the road to total interoperability. As this article explains, the architecture that currently exists is laden with “trouble spots” that lead to “errors, omissions, and variability that are impeding data exchange.” Even more concerning, though, are the barriers created by current laws—or lack thereof—that prevent this type of information exchange from happening at all. While most of those laws are designed with privacy and security in mind, they—like technology—must evolve to align with changing care delivery models and payment structures.

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In a perfect world, all healthcare stakeholders would have access to all of the information relevant to their various functions—from plan of care development to payment for services rendered. Getting to that “heathcare utopia” will take time; after all, Rome—like interoperability—wasn’t built in a day. Still, it’s important that physical therapists—and all other types of providers—prepare themselves for a world in which data is the main ingredient in the recipe for creating a stronger, healthier society.


Is Your EMR Ready for ICD-10?

It’s only a matter of time before the leaves start changing and the pumpkin spice lattes start flowing—and that means the October 1 transition to ICD-10 is just around the corner. But rather than kicking their preparations into high gear, many providers are kicking back and relaxing—because their EMRs already have everything handled, right? Right? Anyone? Bueller?

Unfortunately, not all EMRs are created equally—and not all are equally prepared for the impending ICD-10 transition. So, how do you make sure your system is in fighting shape for ICD-10? For starters, nail down the answers to the following questions:

1. Does your EMR prompt you to document specific details of the patient’s injury or condition?

One of the biggest reasons the medical community is transitioning away from ICD-9 is that the old code set doesn’t allow providers to accurately—and specifically—represent patient diagnoses through the use of diagnosis codes. And to encourage—er, force—healthcare professionals to move away from the now-common practice of submitting generalized or unspecified diagnosis codes, payers will require a high level of coding specificity as a condition of payment. As this HIMSS page explains, “With the expansion of diagnosis codes comes a greater level of detail; therefore a greater level of detail will be required in the encounter documentation in order to assign an appropriate diagnosis code.”

Of course, detailed diagnosis coding goes hand-in-hand with detailed documentation—especially if the clinician (e.g., the physical therapist) isn’t the one submitting claims. How is a biller or coder supposed to select and/or verify a diagnosis code if the supporting documentation isn’t detailed enough to inform that choice? Unless your practice’s coder moonlights as a psychic, he or she won’t be able to pull that one off—at least not 100% of the time. So, if you want to receive 100% of your payments—and I’m no psychic, but I’m betting that you do—you better cross all your t’s and dot all your i’s within your documentation, and make sure your EMR allows you to do so, too.

2. Does your EMR’s code selector prompt you to choose more specific codes when greater specificity exists?

Maybe you’ve already called up your EMR vendor and asked whether the system has—or will have—an ICD-10 code selection tool. (If you haven’t, stop what you’re doing and pick up the phone. I’ll wait right here.)

Okay, let’s assume your vendor has assured you that the system absolutely, positively will have functionality that allows you to select and document ICD-10 codes. That’s fantastic—but your investigative work shouldn’t stop there. Sure, your EMR might have all the applicable codes loaded into its system—and you might even be able to search for the right code by diagnosis or anatomic site. But just because you can find codes doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find the right ones, especially when specificity comes into play.

For example, let’s say you’re searching for a code to express the diagnosis of patellar tendinitis. The code M76.50 (Patellar tendinitis, unspecified knee) might appear at the top of your search results, but it doesn’t account for one very important diagnostic detail: laterality. However, if your EMR prompts you to code for laterality when that specificity exists, then you’ll land on either M76.51 (Patellar tendinitis, right knee) or M76.52 (Patellar tendinitis, left knee). And by using a more specific code, you’ll greatly decrease your chances of receiving a claim denial.

3. Did your EMR base its ICD-10 code library on GEMs?

Despite this acronym’s sparkly association, there’s nothing precious about GEMs—a.k.a. general equivalence mappings. As this blog post explains, “…GEMs were never intended to serve as single-code translation dictionaries. Because of the way they’re structured—in clusters of two to four related codes—GEMs may map one ICD-9 code to several ICD-10 codes and vice-versa.” While GEMs can be useful for converting large batches of data, they’re not reliable mechanisms of one-to-one code translation. So, if your EMR simply used GEMs to map each of its existing ICD-9 codes to an ICD-10 substitute, then you could be in for a rude awakening come October.

4. Does your EMR claim to have an automatic crosswalk from ICD-9?

Like an ill-prepared college student desperately searching for a cheat sheet the night before the big test, healthcare professionals who have put off their ICD-10 prep work until the eleventh hour are desperately searching for a magic bullet that’ll make all their ICD-10 worries fade into oblivion. Some EMR vendors have capitalized on that desperation by claiming to offer solutions that automate the ICD-10 code selection process or produce accurate ICD-10 matches for all of the ICD-9 codes you know and love. The problem is, no such tool exists—at least not one that actually works. Why? Because, as this blog post points out, “…when it comes to translating ICD-9 codes into the language of ICD-10, there’s no technology sophisticated enough to do the thinking for you.” Furthermore, “the new code set wouldn’t function the way it’s supposed to without the human decision-making factor.”

5. Will your EMR allow you to practice coding with ICD-10 prior to October 1?

As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. Attempting to code in ICD-10 with zero practice would be like showing up to run a marathon with zero training mileage under your belt. And with payment at stake, this definitely isn’t the time to wing it. The same goes for your coding tools: If your first time using your EMR’s ICD-10 functionality is October 1, 2015, then you could be fighting an uphill battle fraught with frustration, claims backup, and workflow disruption. So, make sure your EMR will release its ICD-10 coding tool before the go-live date. That way, you and your staff can train in a relaxed, no-pressure environment. Plus, you’ll be able to run internal testing programs and participate in external testing opportunities.

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Technology will play a huge role in the transition to ICD-10, and if you arm yourself with the right tools, you can greatly ease the shock of the shift. But while Ferris Bueller seemingly can navigate any sticky situation relying on wit and charm alone, no amount of charisma can make up for an EMR with a sub-par ICD-10 solution. So, before you put your feet up and enjoy the last of the summer sunshine before the fall chill sets in, make sure your EMR is truly ready for October 1.


4 Reasons You’ll Need an EMR for Pay-for-Performance

There’s no stopping payment reform, and no matter how tightly you cling to the fee-for-service structures you know—and, um, love?—you can’t slow the nationwide transition to a pay-for-performance environment. And it should come as no surprise that the move toward innovative payment structures goes hand-in-hand with the push for widespread adoption of innovative healthcare technologies, including electronic medical records (EMRs). But while federal initiatives—like the meaningful use program—have ushered medical professionals in other specialties into the technological age, physical therapists have, by and large, been left to fend for themselves on the EMR front. And if you’re a PT who hasn’t yet jumped on the EMR bandwagon, the pay-for-performance movement might be exactly the nudge you need to take the leap. Here’s why:

1. Outcomes tracking is crucial to proving your value as a healthcare provider.

In a pay-for-performance world, getting paid for your services hinges on your ability to objectively prove the effectiveness of those services. And that means introducing—or ramping up—outcomes data-collection efforts within your practice. The easiest way to do that? Implement an EMR with built-in outcomes tracking functionality. That way, you can easily complete outcome measurement tools directly within the patient record. If your EMR system is really on top of its game, it also will offer functionality that allows you to analyze your data in a way that produces real, meaningful insight—the kind that will go a long way toward ensuring you get the payments you deserve.

2. The more data PTs can collectively amass, the more powerful that information becomes.

For the PT industry to assert the value of physical therapy services on a grander scale—thus ensuring consistently high payment rates across the board—individual providers must coordinate their data-collection efforts. That means:

  1. using a standardized set of tools that the entire medical community—regardless of specialty—can recognize and understand, and
  2. entering data into a national—or even international—registry or repository.

After all, the larger—and more geographically diverse—the data is, the more authoritative it appears to payers and policymakers.

3. The dream of creating a national PT data registry probably won’t come to fruition without EMR integration.

The APTA has been working on creating a national data registry for a while now, and although the association’s head is definitely in the right place, the question remains: “How will the data get from individual providers to the registry?” As it stands, the answer to that question is that providers will have to manually enter their data into the registry—and as we all know, data-entry takes time. Many PTs are already so bogged down by administrative burdens that the mere thought of having to add one more item to the list is enough to outweigh the perceived benefit of having access to such a powerful data set. That’s why it’ll probably take an integrated solution—one in which patient outcomes data flows seamlessly from the EMR to the larger repository—to make the industry’s vision for a national registry actually happen.

4. Interoperability is crucial to care coordination, and web-based EMRs are crucial to interoperability.

For PTs to thrive in the coming era of pay-for-performance, they’ll need to step up and own their roles as care coordinators. But when you take on the responsibility of serving as a patient’s first point of medical contact, you also become responsible for guiding that patient’s journey through the care continuum. That means collaborating with your peers in other specialties to ensure the patient receives the best—and most appropriate—care possible, thus ensuring the best possible treatment outcome. But that kind of collaboration can’t happen—at least not in an organized, efficient manner—without patient records systems that talk to each other. Because for teams of providers to truly function as teams, each “player” must be able to access the most updated version of a patient’s medical record in real time. So, as you explore your web-based EMR options, make sure you look for a system that has interoperability on its roadmap.

There’s no way to sugar-coat it: pay-for-performance is going to have a massive impact on how—and how much—physical therapists get paid for their services. But with the right EMR by your side, the transition to value-based payment could actually benefit your practice.


EMR in the Exam Room: What Patients Really Think

Making the switch from paper documentation to an electronic medical record (EMR) is a big change. And as with any major shift from the norm, the prospect of implementing an EMR in your practice probably comes with a few concerns—about how it will impact you, your staff, and the overall health of your business. But while there’s plenty of information out there to help alleviate skepticism about the value of EMR from the provider standpoint, data demonstrating a link between electronic documentation and improved patient experience is a bit more elusive. So, to get a better idea of how patients feel about electronic records, The Profitable Practice—a publication of Software Advice—conducted a survey of 4,500 US patients to see whether a doctor’s use of electronic documentation technology plays a significant role in the quality of the patient’s experience. Here’s a breakdown of what the study uncovered:

1. Patients are not nearly as bothered by your use of electronic note-taking devices as you think they are. Sure, there are isolated examples of patients who feel a tad put-off by the presence of EMR in a medical setting—perhaps you’ve even come across one or two in your own research—but their qualms with technology are far removed from the general consensus (and, quite possibly, have less to do with the technology itself than the person who is using it). In fact, in this study, more than 80% of those surveyed said it would not bother them if, during an office exam, their doctor typed on a desktop computer, a laptop computer, or a tablet. Interestingly, of those three devices, patients expressed the least discontent over tablets.

2. By comparison, patients are much more bothered by medical scribes and audio recording devices. According to the study, people are about two times more likely to express concern over the use of scribes—patient data “middlemen” who enter notes into an electronic documentation system while the clinician conducts the exam—than doctors simply entering the information themselves. But among all of the documentation methods the survey presented, the one that irked repondants the most was audio recording. More than a third of those surveyed said it would bother them if a doctor used an audio recorder during an exam to aid with documentation. Furthermore, more respondents selected “very bothersome” for audio recording than any other method of documentation.

3. Patients actually prefer their medical providers to document electronically rather than on paper. Well, to be more accurate, the majority of patients are decidedly apathetic on the EMR-versus-paper issue, with a whopping 47% saying they have “absolutely no preference” when it comes to their doctor’s point-of-care charting method. But when surveyors eliminated the “no preference” option and asked respondents to choose one of two documentation preferences (paper or electronic) and one of two levels of preference (strongly prefer or somewhat prefer), 77% indicated that they either somewhat or strongly prefer electronic charting over paper charting during an exam, with 44% of those respondents falling into the “strongly prefer electronic” category.

4. Customer service plays a much more significant role in patient satisfaction than does the clinician’s documentation method. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of patients chalked negative doctor visit experiences up to either long wait times (35%) or unfriendly staff (25%). Coming in at a close third was short visit duration, with 24% of the vote. Together, those factors account for 84% of patient dissatisfaction (at least among participants in this study). What does that mean for your practice? Well, if your patient satisfaction rate is suffering, it’s probably not because you’re using an iPad during your therapy sessions. Before you ditch your EMR—or table your plans to implement one in your clinic—step back and take a look at your operational processes and the demeanor of your staff. Are your patients treated with kindness and respect from the moment they walk through your door? Have you optimized your front office processes to ensure maximum efficiency? If you answered “no” to either question, an EMR could actually help: as writer Erica Cohen points out in this article, “electronic documentation is a huge time-saver for patients (and office staff) because they no longer need to manually complete paperwork and forms at every visit. Rather, if the provider uses an electronic system, patients need only to complete their forms at the initial visit.” Cohen also cites a study revealing that “73% of patients whose current physician keeps electronic records say that EMRs have a very or somewhat positive impact on the overall quality of the health care services they receive.”

Do you agree with the results of this study? Do you think EMR has the potential to enhance a patient’s treatment experience? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.


4 Reasons Why You’ll Need an EMR for ICD-10

With the switch to ICD-10 looming on the horizon, many healthcare providers are searching for a catch-all solution to ensure a smooth, snag-free transition. As this article points out, while there’s really no “magic bullet” for ICD-10, adopting an electronic medical record (EMR) will definitely help ease some of the pain associated with implementing this new diagnosis code set. In fact, the thought of tackling ICD-10 without an EMR is close to inconceivable. Here’s why:

1. It will be your life preserver in a sea of new codes. If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of codes included in ICD-10, you’re not alone. To give you an idea of the scope, there are more than 68,000 ICD-10 diagnosis codes and 72,000 procedural codes. For comparison, ICD-9 has 13,000 diagnosis codes and 4,000 procedural ones. Add to that a complete overhaul of the actual code structure—ICD-10 codes contain up to seven characters, whereas ICD-9 codes only contain up to five—and you’ve got a recipe for a serious panic attack. But if you have the right EMR, you can breathe easy—or at least easier. Good EMRs feature built-in intelligence to help you select diagnosis codes based on the information you’ve recorded in your documentation. That way, you don’t have to thumb through hundreds and hundreds of pages of diagnosis codes to find the one you’re looking for.

2. It will ensure you code as specifically as possible. In addition to helping you find the right code for each diagnosis, an EMR also will prompt you to code to the greatest possible level of specificity. For example, as explained in this blog post, some diagnosis codes require a related external cause code to indicate the origin of a patient’s injury or condition. These codes do not exist within ICD-9, so remembering to add them might prove difficult at first—unless you have an EMR that remembers for you. And with everything else you’ve got on your plate, that peace of mind could be huge—especially considering that payers will come to expect this information to be readily available on patient claims.

3. It’s a big piece of the interoperability puzzle. In their quest to increase the efficiency and quality of patient care in all specialties, healthcare leaders all over the world have pushed for a medical landscape with fast, seamless information exchange—a.k.a. interoperability—across all healthcare platforms. The global move toward ICD-10 represents a huge part of this initiative as it allows for uniform coding of complex information, thus making the resulting data easier to share. But true interoperability cannot exist without effective communication and adequate technology—and that’s where EMR comes into the picture. In this day and age, it would be nearly impossible to achieve constant interconnectivity and communication across all healthcare providers without across-the-board implementation of secure, portable, cloud-based EMR systems.

4. It will allow you to focus on what truly matters—your patients. The magnitude of the transition to ICD-10 could easily pull your attention away from your ultimate goal of providing exceptional care to each and every patient. But with an EMR, you’ll have a partner to tackle some of the tedious code selection stuff so you’ll have the bandwidth to handle bigger-ticket tasks—like helping your patients achieve amazing outcomes through therapy.

So, before you pull your hair out over this whole ICD-10 switch, be sure your practice has all of the tools necessary to make the transition as painless as possible—chief among them: an EMR.


Why Your EMR Should Tailor to Physical Therapy, Not Meaningful Use

If you’re in the market for an EMR, you already know there are tons of options out there. And as a savvy shopper, you’re probably trying to whittle down your list of “maybes” to a few “very likelies” before you have to make a final decision. With features galore, it might be tough to figure out which ones will be most beneficial to you and your practice. And on top of that, some EMRs are certified for a particular purpose, such as meaningful use.

By now, most healthcare practitioners have at least heard of meaningful use. Perhaps you have, too. Essentially, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the federal government began offering financial incentives—up to $44,000 through the Medicare incentive program and up to $63,750 through the Medicaid incentive program—to “eligible professionals” who began using electronic health records in their practices. The caveat? To qualify for the incentive, these practitioners had to implement a certified electronic health record—that is, one that “offers the necessary technological capability, functionality, and security to help them meet the meaningful use criteria.” (One of the most prevalent certifying bodies is the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology, which is why some systems list CCHIT certification as a selling point.)

If you’ve come across any EHRs or EMRs that are certified for meaningful use, you might be tempted to rank them at the top of your list. After all, if the system passed the rigors of meaningful use certification, it must be pretty darn good, right?

Here’s the pickle: as a physical therapist, you are not considered an “eligible professional” when it comes to meaningful use. Thus, you cannot earn the incentive associated with demonstrating meaningful use of an EMR—even if you implement a system that has been certified for meaningful use. Furthermore, because the certification criteria are geared toward practitioners who do, in fact, fall into the category of “eligible professionals” (e.g., physicians, hospitals, and critical-access hospitals), many certified EMRs end up tailoring to clinicians who practice in these settings. And that means such EMRs might not be the best fit for you and your practice.

Instead, you should look for an EMR built specifically for your needs as a physical therapist—one that accommodates your workflow and accounts for the government regulations and initiatives that do apply to you (such as PQRS, the therapy cap, and functional limitation reporting). Because to truly maximize your clinic’s efficiency, you’ve got to use an EMR made for your clinic. That way, you can spend less time sifting through features you don’t need and more time focusing on what really matters: treating your patients.

Want to learn more about what a PT-specific EMR can do for you and your clinic? Click here for more details. Questions? Leave ’em in the comments and we’ll do our best to find you the answers.


5 Reasons Why You Should Switch to EMR

Change is hard, but in an age where technology and innovation rule, it’s also inevitable. And in an increasingly digital world, paper records are quickly falling by the wayside in virtually every industry—rehab therapy included. If you’re still documenting on paper, you might be reluctant—and maybe even a little scared—to make the jump to an electronic medical record (EMR). After all, you’ve been using a paper system for years, and it seems to be working just fine. So what’s all this fuss about going digital? Read on to discover five good reasons why rehab therapists should make the switch to EMR.

1. It’s the way of the future.

Actually, it’s quickly becoming the way of the present. As detailed in this Healthcare IT News article, the federal government has already pumped billions—yes, billions, with a “b”—of dollars into incentivizing electronic records adoption (although unfortunately, rehab therapists are not eligible to receive those incentives). Still, a government investment of that magnitude is a sure sign that EMR will be part of standard healthcare operation in the not-too-distant future, especially as we continue to move toward total interoperability and a true pay-for-performance reimbursement structure.

2. Ever-mounting regulations make it nearly impossible to stay compliant if you’re documenting on paper.

Most EMRs—the good ones, anyway—have built-in compliance safeguards to ensure your notes are always up to snuff, no matter how many new requirements CMS throws your way (cough—functional limitation reporting—cough). And if you choose a cloud-based system—and I strongly recommend that you do—all compliance updates will occur automatically, so you’ll never have to halt operations to install a new version of your EMR software. Plus, in the event of an audit, you can rest easy knowing your records are in tip-top shape.

3. It’s cheaper than paper.

Yes, implementing an EMR requires a bit of an investment. However, modern cloud-based systems are significantly less expensive than their server-based predecessors, and the payoff over time is definitely worth the initial cost because paper records are so expensive to copy, transport, and store. Still not convinced? According to this article, it costs about $8 per year to maintain a paper record, compared to $2 to maintain an electronic record. Multiply that by hundreds of patients, and the case for EMR becomes pretty clear. Plus, with no need to spend precious minutes digging around for patient files, you’ll save in labor costs and free up more time to see patients—a double dose of increased efficiency.

4. It’s easier.

One of the most common misconceptions about EMR is that the learning curve is too steep to overcome—especially for therapists who do not consider themselves particularly tech-savvy. I’m not saying there won’t be an adjustment period or that learning a new system will be totally effortless; all I’m saying is that with the right EMR—and the right training—it will probably be a lot easier than you think. And once you’re no longer scratching your head as you attempt to decode nearly illegible handwriting, I think you’ll agree. And as a bonus, cloud-based EMRs offer the benefit of complete flexibility. Therapists can access patient records using virtually any web-enabled device and can document whenever and wherever they please. Bye-bye, desk chains.

5. It allows you to provide better patient care.

EMRs enhance patient safety by ensuring complete, organized, and secure patient records. In addition to decreasing the incidence of coding errors and misplaced files, electronic systems allow therapists to easily view a patient’s entire history, thus enabling them to make better clinical decisions. EMRs also foster care coordination among different providers and specialists, which is extremely beneficial to patients who see multiple doctors. Additionally, EMRs make it much easier to control access to patient records and to determine who has viewed (and made changes to) a record.

With so many reasons to make the switch to EMR, it’s hard to justify continuing on with the ol’ pen and paper. Old habits die hard, but trust me—once you make EMR your new habit, you’ll be glad you put paper to bed for good.


Four Ways EMR Can Enhance Patient Care

If you’re considering implementing an electronic medical record (EMR) in your rehab therapy practice, you’ve probably already gotten the skinny on the numerous ways an EMR will benefit you and your business: reduced errors, maximized reimbursements, simplified Medicare and HIPAA compliance, improved efficiency—the list goes on. But as a therapist, your ultimate goal—the reason you got into this profession—is to help people. What you might not realize, though, is that an EMR can actually enhance the quality of care you provide to your patients. Read on to find out how.

1. It’s a time-saver.

Even if you have the slickest filing system in the world—color-coded tabs, anyone?—it will never compare to the efficiency and convenience of an EMR. If you tracked the amount of time you devote to retrieving and replacing paper records each day, you’d probably be shocked. And as a rehab therapist, you know better than anyone that when it comes to treating patients, every minute is valuable. With an EMR, you’ll stop wasting those precious minutes searching for patient charts—and squinting at barely legible notes—which leaves more time for you to provide excellent patient care. And speaking of charts, a good EMR—more specifically, a cloud-based one—allows you the flexibility to document virtually anywhere, anytime, from any web-enabled device, which frees up even more patient one-on-one time because you’ll be able to complete your notes whenever it is most convenient for you.

2. It allows you to see the whole picture.

You wouldn’t write a book review after reading only the first chapter, and you shouldn’t make any decisions about a patient’s plan of care without considering his or her entire story. A complete, well maintained record is integral to the development of an effective plan of care because it allows therapists to look at the whole picture before designating any course of action. EMRs are all about organization, which makes it super easy to review a patient’s history before moving forward with his or her treatment. Furthermore, EMRs promote improved information exchange among providers, which allows for better coordination of care and helps propel the healthcare industry toward a state of complete interoperability.

3. It boosts patient buy-in and compliance.

With tools like automatic appointment reminders and an integrated home exercise program, you’ll significantly improve your clinic’s rate of patient compliance. These features increase the chances that your patients will show up not only on time, but also prepared to progress with their treatment. And while a cluttered, inefficient clinic might give patients a bad impression of you as a competent medical professional—and thus cause them to question the quality of care they are receiving—a smooth-running operation creates positive vibes that will stay with them long after they walk out the door. This not only keeps patients coming back, but also makes them more likely to follow through with the plan you have prescribed to them.

4. It ensures patient privacy.

Protected health information (PHI) laws aren’t getting any softer—in fact, the recent HIPAA Omnibus ruling introduced even harsher penalties for PHI breaches—which makes information security a top priority for you and your practice. And in an age when identity theft and fraud are very real concerns for most people, your patients will take comfort in knowing that their information is safe. While ensuring the security of paper records is difficult, most EMRs—the good ones, anyway—feature bank-level security systems with multiple layers of access control. Sure sounds better than the locked filing cabinet in your office, right? Plus, with the burden of potential PHI breach off your shoulders, you’ll be better able to focus on what really matters: your patients.

So, if bottom-line benefits like increased revenue and efficiency aren’t enough to woo you into the arms of EMR, remember that your patients have a lot to gain from your transition as well. And at the end of the day, providing exemplary patient care is what it’s all about. Isn’t it time to elevate your practice?


How to Turn Your EMR into a Competitive Advantage

The typical pro-EMR argument tends to revolve around documentation. Yes, documenting with an EMR is easier, faster, and all-around less painful than the traditional pen-and-paper method. But documentation is only the tip of the EMR iceberg. If you’ve got the right system in place, it can actually make you more competitive (read: profitable) in business. Interested? I thought you might be. Here are some ways your EMR can give you a leg-up on the competition:

Marketing

For most rehab therapists, referrals play a crucial role in acquiring new patients. How crucial? Well, according to the APTA’s Marketing to Health Care Professionals guide, 94% of consumers start with their primary care provider when they have pain or mobility concerns. So, it makes sense to keep track of which providers are giving you the most business, right? And it makes even more sense to choose an EMR that does the job for you.

Enter: referral reports. This feature allows you to attach the name of a particular physician to each patient he or she sends your way. Later, you can create a report identifying your best referral sources as well as those that probably need a little more networking attention. Some EMRs also allow you to place your clinic’s logo on all of your digital documents, including physician notes. This not only gives you an extra bit of professional polish, but also puts your brand in front of referral sources on a consistent basis. And as any marketing pro will tell you, when it comes to branding, repetition is key.

Scheduling

In this day and age, “I’ll pencil you in” should be nothing more than a figure of speech. If your EMR includes an electronic scheduling tool—and it definitely should—then your front office staff can easily book or reschedule appointments with the click of a mouse. Plus, most scheduling tools automatically link your patient records to your clinic’s calendar, so you don’t waste valuable time searching for patient charts each time someone checks in. Scheduling tools also aid in managing therapists’ schedules, even in multiple-clinic settings. And if you want to minimize revenue losses due to cancellations and no-shows—and who doesn’t?—look for a system with automatic phone, text, and email appointment reminders, which have been shown to slash no-show rates by more than 30%.

Billing

To stay profitable, you’ve got to receive timely reimbursements for your services, and that means minimizing denied claims. How do you do that? Well, submitting clean claims in the first place is an excellent place to start. Some EMRs—including WebPT—offer their own integrated billing service or have certified billing partners. Both options streamline your billing process—and reduce opportunities for error—by eliminating double entry of billing codes and demographic patient information and ensuring seamless transfer of information. And that means you’ll get paid—every time.

Loyalty

If you want to stay in business, getting new patients is essential; but keeping them is pretty important, too. Of course, your merits as a therapist count more than anything else when it comes to patient loyalty, but it doesn’t hurt to offer cool extras like home exercise programs that include photos and videos to help your patients meet their therapy goals. Some EMRs allow you to email these materials directly to your patients, giving them one more reason to follow through on their prescribed home exercise plans—and to come back to you for all of their future therapy needs.

Compliance

If it seems like Medicare regulations and requirements are changing constantly, it’s because they are. And with everything therapists already have on their plates, who has time to stay up on PQRS, functional limitation reporting, and the like? Luckily, EMRs—especially web-based ones—can help you stay compliant by keeping up with Medicare’s ever-evolving rule book for you—thus ensuring that you meet every standard set forth by CMS. This helps you avoid audits and the steep penalties associated with compliance violations, which in turn allows you to maintain a healthy payer mix of both Medicare and non-Medicare patients. And considering that over the next 17 years, 10,000 baby boomers a day will turn 65, Medicare’s impact on your clinic’s revenue stream will only continue to grow.

If you were on the fence about EMR before, I hope these insights were enough to tip the scale. After all, we here at PhysicalTherapyEMR.net want your business to thrive so you can keep doing what you do best: treating and healing your patients. So, ditch the pen and paper—and then let your EMR help take your clinic to the next level.