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.


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.