4 Reasons You Should Use an EMR for Practice Management

When you think about your EMR, documentation might be the first thing that comes to mind. And while defensible documentation is crucial—and should be the main component of your EMR—there are other perks your software vendor can offer you. One of the most efficient, cost-effective options available through your EMR is a practice management suite. Think you already have your processes on lock? Even if you do, you can further streamline your business when you take advantage of all of the benefits your software offers.

As this InformationWeek article explains, “Ideally, EHR and practice management systems work together so that patient registrations become patient health records, and the diagnosis recorded into the EHR turns into a properly coded insurance claim.” Sounds pretty slick, right? If you aren’t convinced yet, here are five mission-critical practice management functions made oh-so-simple with an EMR:

1. Capture Patient Demographics

When a patient enters your clinic, you’ve likely gathered all of his or her demographics before the appointment. You’ve got names, numbers, insurance information, and addresses. But, where do you store it all? Are you leaving PHI in paper files on your front desk or in a filing cabinet—thus putting your practice at risk for a HIPAA violation?

The best way to collect—and store—patient demographics is by entering this information into your secure EMR. Your EMR should provide a patient intake form option. That way, you can be sure you’ve collected all the relevant information, confirmed that it’s up to date, and stored all of it in a secure, cloud-based system. And if you ever need to access any patient info, it’s just a few clicks away. No more digging through stacks of paper—or shuffling through filing cabinets—to locate your patient data.

2. Schedule Appointments

Just like those stacks of files, your appointment book shouldn’t be left to the whims the paper gods—and at risk for HIPAA violations, natural disasters, or misplacement. With the right EMR, you can easily schedule patients, color-code their appointments, manage multiple schedules, and even send automatic appointment reminders. You’ll save time and money when you let your EMR help you decrease no-shows through a seamless scheduling system.

3. Maintain Payer List

With an EMR, you can easily assign the appropriate payers to each of your patients, and it’s simple to keep a comprehensive list that’s available for updating at any moment. Plus, your EMR should offer documentation safeguards based on your payer list. For example, your Medicare patients should trigger certain documentation alerts. With the right EMR, you can control all of this within your payer settings.

4. Generate Reports

Your EMR contains a wealth of information, and when paired with your documentation, you can generate and analyze a number of metrics through easy-to-run reports. With a good EMR in place, you can track no-shows, provider productivity, completed documentation, and even PQRS progress. Running these reports regularly will give you true insight into your business.

5. Submit Clean Claims

The first step to submitting clean claims is creating clean documentation. Your EMR should already have that down pat. But, does your EMR automatically generate CPT codes that flow into your billing software or to your billing service? If not, it absolutely should. Dr. Heidi Jannenga explains in this article that using “a medical billing software or service that is integrated with your EMR means that demographic and billing data will be seamlessly transmitted from your documentation system to your billing company.” The more you can automate processes through your EMR, the more time—and effort—you can save doing routine tasks. And that, ultimately, allows you to spend more time doing what you love: helping patients.

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If you’re looking to improve your processes, look no further than your EMR’s practice management system. As this HealthIT.gov article simply states, “79% of providers report that with an EHR, their practice functions more efficiently.” Are you taking advantage of everything your EMR has to offer?


Why You Shouldn’t Stick It Out with Your Software

Are you unhappy with your current EMR? If so, you’re not alone. Every year, thousands of rehab therapy professionals suffer through clunky documentation processes, delayed reimbursements, and manual—which means time- and resource-consuming—updates (cue saccharine Sarah McLachlan song). But it doesn’t have to be like that. For as little as a few dollars a day, you can rescue a rehab therapy professional from the cruelty of antiquated and dysfunctional EMRs.

Okay, so maybe the current EMR market doesn’t quite call for an ASPCA-esque commercial, but for rehab therapy professionals who deal with ill-designed EMRs every day, the struggle is very real. According to a 2013 report from Orem, Utah-based research firm KLAS, private practice providers “are leaving their vendors at an unprecedented rate as EMR solutions fail to meet rising expectations in small physician practices.” The report found that providers are experiencing bad service, product gaps, poor usability, and other limitations that come in like a wrecking ball and destroy clinic productivity, employee satisfaction, and revenue.

If you’re a professional grappling with EMR dissatisfaction, your current system’s résumé probably reads like this:

  • server-based
  • designed for physicians
  • charges per chart or visit
  • lacks free training and support

While those aren’t the only reasons for switching, they are four of the biggest EMR pitfalls—and the cause of many a headache for rehab therapy professional everywhere. If you think you can’t ditch that crappy EMR because it’s too difficult or too expensive to switch, you’re wrong. In fact, staying with an EMR that doesn’t work for you could end up costing you more. Here’s how:

Weighty Consequences

Server-based EMRs are obese clunkers full of ancient technology. In the age of all things mobile, you deserve an EMR you can take with you—anywhere, anytime—but you can’t exactly fit a server in your pocket. Server-based systems take up a large chunk of space—and take a large chunk out of your wallet. If you’ve had your EMR for years, you’ve already written off the cost, so having to shell out for a new system—especially a web-based system, which comes with a low initial investment—shouldn’t be too much of a concern. However, if you’ve recently adopted a server-based EMR, I can understand your hesitation to switch—but think about how much that system is costing you in time and productivity.

If you have a server-based system, the responsibility of securing your patients’ protected health information (PHI) and performing all the upgrades is solely on your shoulders—and that’s no easy task, especially if you aren’t technologically inclined (you may even have to hire IT staff to maintain your system, which makes server-based systems even pricier). Plus, if you miss an update, your system immediately becomes out-of-date, putting you at risk for non-compliance—and considering the speed at which regulations change, that could end up being very costly (I’m talking penalties, fees, rejected claims, and audits). Web-based systems, on the other hand, offer you the security, accessibility, compliance, and data management you need.

Weak Flow

You wouldn’t stay in a relationship with a person who didn’t “get you,” right? So why stay with an EMR that doesn’t understand you, your industry, or your workflow? EMRs designed for physicians—not physical therapists—tend to offer workflows that don’t make sense for your needs, forcing you to spend far too much of your precious time trying to mold the system to fit a PT’s workflow. Wouldn’t you rather get back to treating patients instead of working around problems that shouldn’t even be there? If your EMR lacks key features like built-in functional limitation reporting, 8-minute rule monitoring, and therapy cap tracking, you need to switch to one that cares as much about your practice as you do.

$pendy $upport

If your EMR doesn’t offer you free training and support, you’re going to wind up spending way more than the sticker price to successfully implement and operate your new system (if that’s even possible to begin with). You’re already paying for the software; if you need help along the way, you shouldn’t have to pick up the tab for that, too. Straightforward, flexible, and free phone support and training—from the get-go—should be part of the package, and any EMR company worth its salt will agree with me on that point.

And speaking of unnecessary fees: Does your EMR charge you per chart or per visit? Well, it shouldn’t, because that means you’re penalized for expanding your business. Who wants to be punished for success? (Psst: the answer is no one). When you make the switch, be sure to choose an EMR that charges per user and offers a subscription model. Oh, and one more thing: Beware of “Jack-of-All-Trades” software companies that give away certain aspects of their software (e.g., their documentation or scheduling platforms) in an effort to lock you into their more lucrative components (e.g., revenue cycle management).

 

If you’re having documentation problems, I feel for you. Because even if you have 99 other problems at your clinic, your EMR shouldn’t be one of them. It’s simply not worth holding onto a system that doesn’t function or follow through on promises. And right now—fewer than seven months away from the mandatory transition to ICD-10—may just be the best time to switch if your current EMR vendor isn’t prepared for the transition.

To help you achieve greatness in practice, you need an EMR that is accountable, efficient, cost-effective, accessible, secure, and most importantly, compliant. Trust me, you’re not going to get that with anything but a truly web-based EMR designed with the PT in mind. Don’t settle for less than what you need—and deserve.


Four Web-Based EMR Myths Exposed

Spend enough time scrolling through Facebook, perusing magazine headlines in the grocery store checkout line, or catching snippets of daytime television in the waiting room, and you’re bound to get a healthy dose of gossip. Typically, we assume that the grapevine babble stops with Miley Cyrus just being Miley or politicians getting caught doing smarmy things. In reality, though, rumors swirl everywhere—even within the healthcare industry. Take web-based EMR for example. Do you know the myths from the truth?

Myth: The Internet’s not secure enough to keep my important data safe.

Truth: With so much at stake, data security should be one of your top priorities—but don’t write off the Internet just yet. As Power Your Practice points out, web-based EMR systems “store data in high-level storage centers with bank-level security and a minimum of 128-bit encryption methods, per HIPAA’s standards.” Consider WebPT: We store data at IO Data Center, a Tier III-Certified facility that provides multiple layers of access control, including a defensible perimeter, video surveillance, and round-the­-clock security guards.

Paper storage certainly doesn’t offer that, but what about server-based EMRs? Well, if it’s under your desk or in a room in your office, I bet not. And that means you—and your patients—could be at risk. Just think about what could happen in a natural disaster. If your data is stored offsite, in the cloud, with multiple failsafes and backups, it will remain safe and secure. You’ll be able to get back to work as soon as you’re ready—exactly where you left off. What about theft? Whereas IO has 24/7/forever guard protection, your clinic probably doesn’t. WebPT currently holds 27 million patient records in the the cloud, and we’ve never lost a single one.

I could prattle on for several more paragraphs about how any web-based EMR worth its salt is far more secure than the server-based systems of yesteryear. Instead, I’ll refer you to this super awesome blog post I wrote about the security and compliance of web-based vs. server-based software.

Myth: Cloud-based systems go down—a lot.

Truth: System-wide downtime in a web­-based EMR should be a very rare occurrence. WebPT, for example, boasts over 99% uptime. Downtime for site maintenance is scheduled ahead of time during low-use hours, and Members always receive plenty of advance notice. There’s a lot of chatter out there about the threat of downtime with web-based applications, but oftentimes such problems are actually the result of issues with individual Internet providers. In that case, you can easily prevent outages with the installation of a backup Internet solution, such as a mobile hotspot device. Lastly, Internet speeds today are more than fast enough for your web-based EMR needs. (And remember, server-based or web-enabled systems often require Internet connections, too.)

Myth: Learning a new system is just too hard.

Truth: Contrary to popular belief, you can teach old (or change-resistant) practitioners new tricks. As Healthcare IT News reports, “although there is an initial learning curve during the EMR adoption process, an easy-to-use EMR can significantly improve workflows once [it’s] fully implemented.” We here at WebPT, for example, we routinely get new clinics up and running (with training) in a matter of days. Most new Members learn our application in a virtual meeting environment; however, we do offer onsite training as well, which might be convenient if you have a lot of employees who all need to learn the new system at once. Ultimately, no practice-wide change comes without a period of workforce adjustment. In the long run, though, you’ll recover any losses you incur due to transitional hiccups (see the next myth). Furthermore, if you’re considering retiring, selling, or changing hands at your practice, switching to EMR sets your clinic up for future success and an easier transition, says Healthcare IT News.

Myth: Switching to web-based EMR is expensive.

Truth: Some EMRs are expensive—and that goes for both server- and cloud-based systems. However, the best web-based EMRs cost merely a fraction of what server-based systems charge. Why? Because web-based options typically charge low month-to-month costs and require neither a contract nor a hefty upfront investment. Server-based systems, on the other hand, typically require a lot of upfront costs, including hardware purchases or upgrades and software installation. There are also recurring costs to consider, such as hiring new employees, conducting training, and replacing, repairing, or adding to your hardware.

I know I mentioned that web-based EMRs can be expensive, too. The key is to look for truly web-based (not web-enabled) software. True web-based EMRs charge per user, whereas web-enabled either employ the pricing structures of their server-based forebearers (contracts, hefty upfront investments, maintenance fees, etc.) or employ cost-per-chart pricing. You’re probably focused on growing your business, but that’s tough to do in a per-chart pricing structure where you pay more money for every patient you add. In my book, your EMR should work for you and your business, not the other way around.

Now, you may be thinking that paper is more cost-effective than EMR. That’s another myth. (Just think how quickly the costs of copying, transporting, and storing paper records add up.) Check out these myth-busting stats from DSSI:

  • One four-drawer file cabinet holds 15K-20K of pages, costs $25,000 to fill, and costs $2,000 per year to maintain.
  • The US spends $25-35 billion annually on filing, storing, and retrieving paper.
  • It costs $20 to file a document and $120 to track down a misfiled document (if you can find it).

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.


Now that we’ve busted these web-based EMR myths, we can return to guessing which celebrities are now dating. In all seriousness, though, it’s important that private practice PTs wade through the hearsay, so they can make educated decisions about the tools they use. After all, decreases in reimbursements, increases in regulatory changes, and intensifying competition definitely aren’t rumors, and neither is this: Web-based EMRs can sincerely help you not only be better in business, but also stay compliant and craft clean, detailed, and defensible documentation.


Web-Based vs. Web-Enabled: The Tale of Two EMRs

So much of what we do nowadays, we can accomplish online—from tax preparation and banking to movie watching and shopping. It’s no wonder that so many electronic medical record (EMR) systems—tools that allow medical providers to digitally document, schedule, and bill—are accessible online, too. Of course, these EMRs aren’t all the same. Most do not take into account the workflow or treatment style specific to physical therapy. Beyond that, some aren’t even truly “online.” That’s right, there are server-based EMRs out there masquerading as web-based applications by calling themselves “web-enabled.” Don’t be fooled; here’s why you should skip the tricksters and go for the real deal:

True Web-Based

In a cloud- or web-based system, the EMR stores your clinic’s data—which can include anything from patient records to appointment schedules—within secure data centers. You can then access that data online using any web-enabled device with an Internet connection. You don’t store your data on internal hardware (e.g., the computers at your practice). Instead, you access your EMR—and all of the information it contains—via your web browser (e.g., Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Internet Explorer). With that kind of flexibility, you can document, schedule, and bill from anywhere, at any time. And many web-based EMRs charge month-by-month and do not have contracts—making them a very affordable option.

Server-Based

In contrast, server-based systems require your practice to store all its data as well as the EMR software itself. This means you need a server, corresponding hardware, and quite possibly an IT person or staff simply to maintain everything. It also means that you can only access the EMR from the computers on which it’s installed. To offset the costs associated with producing and supporting such expensive equipment and software, server-based companies use long-term contracts to ensure returns on their investments. Frequently, they also tack on maintenance and support charges, which ups the upfront expense and long-term cost burden on your end.

Web-Enabled

In an attempt to compete with the web-based EMRs hitting the market, many server-based systems have developed “web-enabled” versions. With these pseudo-cloud options, you still have to install software on your computer, and your computer still does all the processing. However, at certain intervals, the software will connect to the Internet to sync your account and data to the cloud. So even though your access is a bit more flexible, your EMR and its data does not update online in real time. Furthermore, such software may require you to manually sync the software with the web. Not only is this process tedious and time-consuming, but also your practice will still need the aforementioned hardware, servers, and IT staff.

Why You Want the Real Deal

At the end of the day, web-enabled EMRs are basically just as clunky as their server-based predecessors as they often require additional hardware, servers, and IT resources. Talk about cumbersome. Plus, business in the modern world is inextricably tied to Internet capability. Workers in every sector—health care included—have come to expect the convenience of anytime, anywhere access to their files. And they want all that data in real time. Web-enabled simply can’t provide that.

Furthermore, if you have multiple clinics or different therapists accessing records simultaneously, you run the risk of individuals accessing or altering data that’s not current. When the EMR connects to the Internet to sync, someone’s entries might replace someone else’s work depending on timestamps. I hate when someone accidentally saves over work I’m doing in a shared file, and I’m just writing blog articles. Imagine if it were a patient’s record! Another drawback of web-enabled: you must download and install web-enabled software, meaning it resides only on the computer to which it’s installed and you can only access it from that computer. Talk about chained to your office. 

When you go with web-enabled rather than true web-based, you also must deal with the security drawbacks of server-based systems. Storing data on local servers, like the computer under your front desk, is just about as secure as keeping your money under a mattress; there’s no failsafe. True web-based systems, on the other hand, provide top-notch security features like unique password-protected access, bank-level security encryption, and automatic data backups. And the best web-based EMR vendors keep your data in a secure, defensible facility with 24/7 surveillance.

Because web-based EMRs undergo regular updates, they can easily integrate new compliance measures as they’re introduced. Built-in alerts ensure you always document completely, correctly, and defensibly.

Another reason to go web-based: the trust factor. Server-based EMR systems never manage your data. You do, because the data is stored locally, like on that server under your desk. So, when server-based systems switch to web-enabled, they’re essentially entering uncharted territory. That’s an issue. It takes a particular skillset to not only develop an application, but securely and compliantly manage the data associated with it. You want to go with the people who are the experts and have been managing data all along. Patient medical records are too important to trust with the inexperienced.

Lastly, true web-based EMRs are more cost-effective over the lifetime of the service than web-enabled EMRs because they feature low, month-to-month, per user costs. Web-enabled EMRs either offer the pricing structures of their server-based forebearers (contracts, hefty upfront investments, maintenance fees, etc.) or employ cost-per-chart pricing. You’re focused on growing your business, but that’s tough to do in a per-chart pricing structure where you pay more money for every patient that you add. In my book, your EMR should work for you and your business, not the other way around.

How to Avoid Getting Tricked by Web-Enabled

The value of EMR is pretty clear—as it relates not only to your business’s bottom line, but also to the quality of care delivered to your patients. Now it’s imperative that you choose a true web-based system by asking the following questions:

  1. Do I need to download anything? (With a true web-based system, you don’t need to download anything.)
  2. Do I need to install anything? (With a true web-based system, you don’t need to install anything.)
  3. Does your EMR need to sync with the Internet occasionally to update my online data? (A true web-based EMR is always functioning in real time.)
  4. Will I need to store any data locally? (With a true web-based EMR, you needn’t store any data on your computer.)
  5. When it’s time to document, how do I open the EMR? (You access a true web-based EMR simply by opening your web browser, going to the service’s website, and logging in.)

Your documentation is important. It’s how you demonstrate your expertise and value; it’s also how you prove that the services you provide are beneficial and necessary. That’s why you should choose an EMR worthy of you and the great work that you do. For that reason, go with a physical therapy-specific, cost-per-month, web-based EMR. It’s secure, mobile, and compliant; it’s quick to adapt and update; and it’s super easy to use. Most importantly, it is what it says it is. If an EMR vendor isn’t truthful about how its product actually operates, what else is the company hiding? Your EMR should be a reliable, honest business partner, dedicated to helping you achieve greatness in practice. Don’t settle for an EMR that provides you with anything less.


Give Yourself the Gift of EMR

The traditional gift-giving holidays are all behind us now—even Cupid has holstered his bow and arrow—but that doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself to something really nice just because. Give yourself the gift of EMR this spring, and say goodbye to writing, filing, and lugging paper charts—a pain, whatever the season. And that’s not all. With the right EMR, you’ll get these other great gifts that just keep on giving, too:

Legible, Accessible, and Defensible Documentation

All physicians must transition to EMR by 2014, and there’s a reason for that: compared to paper charting, EMRs are better able to provide the medical community as a whole with legible, accessible, and defensible documentation. And that’s important for both patients and providers, especially as we continue to move further into this pay-for-performance, regulation-heavy healthcare environment. With an EMR, your documentation will better tell your and your patients’ stories. And you’ll never again have to sort through another towering stack of filing cabinets in search of a certain note, only to find that you can no longer read the chicken scratch that once passed for handwriting.

A Partner in Compliance

Each reporting regulation has its own unique—and often messy—set of requirements, but with the right EMR,  you’ve got a partner in compliance. Instead of stressing about all the hard-to-keep-straight details—like those for PQRS, functional limitation reporting, the 8-minute rule, and the therapy cap—you need only follow the built-in prompts and alerts to complete the requirements for the right patients, every time. Plus, your EMR can help you manage the transition to ICD-10.

Unmatched Safety and Security

Choose a cloud-based EMR, and your patient data will be safe and secure—always. You’ll have all the perks of the world’s leading data centers—like protection from natural disasters, digital video surveillance, biometric screening, and round-the-clock guards—and none of the cost or responsibility.

A Leg-Up on the Competition

For most physical therapists, referrals make up a large part of new business. With an EMR, you can maximize those referrals by tracking how many you receive and from whom. It’s a great way to identify those in your network who need a little more attention and those who deserve a big “thank you.” With an EMR, you can also display your clinic’s logo on all of your digital documents, so every note you send is a reminder to prospective referrers of your skills and professionalism. Talk about a big leg-up.

Now’s the perfect time to nix perilous paper—think of it as an extension of your annual spring cleaning—and make 2014 a year to remember with the best gift you, your clinic, and all the trees of the world could ask for: EMR.