Do Cash-Based Practices Need an EMR?

Many therapists are beginning to add cash-based services to their practice offerings—everything from gait analysis and golf fitness programs to aquatic therapy and deep tissue massage. After all, as Brooke Andrus writes in this post, “…in the current environment of declining reimbursements from third-party payers, adding cash-pay options to your practice’s current menu of services isn’t only smart—it might just be necessary to secure your survival.”

For some, offering a few cash-pay wellness services on the side might be enough, but for others, like physical therapist Ann Wendel, it’s cash-based all the way. While this business model certainly alleviates a lot of headaches when it comes to dealing with payer contract negotiations and increasingly stringent payment regulations, operating a cash-based practice isn’t all sunshine and rainbows—which is why even cash-based practices need an excellent EMR. Here are a few of the biggest reasons cash-based practitioners should equip themselves with top-notch EMR system:

Your patients still need insurance reimbursement, even if you don’t.

Sure, you get paid immediately, but many patients who are willing to pay out of pocket for physical therapy services do so because they’re able to submit claims to their health insurance providers and receive reimbursement directly. In this post, Wendel writes, “You may find it shocking, but my documentation and billing practices are not that different from [those of a PT in a traditional practice]. The end goal…is to get paid—it’s just that in my case, it’s the patient who is waiting for reimbursement.”

To ensure your patients are able to continue benefiting from your services, you have to help them get their money back—and that requires the same attention to quality documentation and billing processes you’d need to demonstrate if you were collecting reimbursements for yourself. But you’re not going to get that level of quality with pen and paper—or with a subpar EMR. That’s because only the best EMR solutions feature the alerts and safeguards necessary to ensure you create correct and comprehensive documentation that supports your invoices, gets them paid the first time around, and helps you generate those invoices and track patient payments—all within one streamlined system. And only the right EMR securely stores all that information—along with your patients’ medical records—so you can access it anywhere, anytime while remaining fully HIPAA-compliant. Plus, a physical therapy-specific EMR provides SOAP note formats that fit your workflow, so documentation is a breeze.

An EMR does more than improve documentation.

No matter how you choose to collect payment for your services (i.e., via cash pay or through third-party insurance providers) you still have a practice to run. And there are some practice management benefits that only the right EMR can provide. These include:

Scheduling

An integrated scheduling feature allows you to view and edit schedules for patients, therapists, and treatment rooms. And, because your calendar is connected to your documentation, your patient records and patient appointments are linked—thus enabling you to gain valuable insight from tracking no-shows, cancellations, and lost patients.

Automatic Patient Reminders

Sending your patients automatic appointment reminders via phone, text, or email can help you maximize your office hours and reduce no-shows. Plus, you can track your results directly within the EMR.

Referral Reports

Curious as to which referral sources are generating the most business for you—and which ones might need a bit of extra attention? Use referral reports to identify the marketing efforts that are worth your while.

Information Sharing

Whether it’s with your own staff or other members of a patient’s healthcare team, information sharing is critical to ensuring excellent care at every level. Use your EMR to easily communicate with staff via secure instant messaging and with external providers via secure email and faxing. Plus, with the right EMR, all of your external communication will be legible and branded with your clinic logo (talk about a leg up on the professionalism front).

Outcomes Tracking

An integrated outcomes tracking solution allows users to collect objective data, thus empowering them to prove their value and enhance patient care. With a library of standardized, industry-accepted tests, you can set concrete performance goals and track your team’s progress toward them. That’s great for your patients—and for your bottom line.

Security

HIPAA breaches are incredibly costly and can destroy patient trust, which is critical in a provider-patient relationship. With the right EMR, the burden of keeping PHI safe doesn’t rest solely on your shoulders, because the application is fully HIPAA compliant and stores all your data in a world-class, extremely well-guarded data center. Now, that’s a whole lot better than keeping it in a filing cabinet in your clinic—fireproof lock or not.

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In case you’re wondering, Wendel uses WebPT, because she likes the portability of a web-based application, the fact that she doesn’t need to store paper charts in her basement for seven years, and the professional quality of the notes she’s able to securely send to physicians and other healthcare professionals on her patients’ care teams.

Want to learn more about the best EMR for cash-based practices? Schedule your complimentary demo of WebPT today.


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.


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 Need an EMR for PQRS

Every November, Medicare releases its Final Rule. And nestled among the many regulatory updates—like warm buns in a basket—are the PQRS requirements for the coming year. The 2016 Final Rule reveals that not much is changing for rehab therapy providers on January 1. But, even so, satisfying PQRS requirements is rarely a piece of cake—er, bite of bun? Anyway, as I was saying: The rules can seem convoluted, and adhering to them requires precise documentation. Here’s how an EMR can help you remain compliant in the following areas:

Tracking Progress

In 2016, eight measures apply to physical therapy, ten to occupational therapy, and a whopping one measure applies to speech-language pathology. And the reporting requirements are pretty strict, as Brooke Andrus explains in this article: “Each eligible professional (EP) must report on nine measures across three NQS domains for at least 50% of Medicare Part B FFS patients.” That means PTs and SLPs are automatically subject to the MAV process, which allows Medicare to review their data to ensure they’ve reported on the maximum number of available measures for their specialties. With all of these complexities in mind, how do you track your progress? And how do you know that you are reporting on all of the measures available to you?

Things can get really complicated when there’s that much data to account for, but the right EMR system makes the process simple by providing you with user-friendly reports that accurately display your progress. That way, you can adjust your processes as the year goes on. Sure beats trying to manually track all of that data.

Satisfying Measures Requirements

One of the potential time-sucks of reporting PQRS data properly is the need to document your measures. It can be difficult to remember which measures to report—and at which intervals. A great EMR will prompt you to report any necessary PQRS data at the right time (e.g., some measures are only reported at initial evaluation, while others require reporting at every visit). That way, you take the guesswork out of satisfactorily reporting, and you can always count on your documentation to be compliant.

Something to be aware of: as always, your bottom line depends on your compliance. When it comes to PQRS, you’re looking at a hefty 2% negative payment adjustment in 2018 if you don’t satisfactorily report on the measures that apply to your specialty in 2016. But, if you use an EMR, you don’t have to leave anything to chance. You’ll know exactly how many patients you’ve seen, which data you’ve reported, and how far you’ve progressed toward meeting the minimum requirements for reporting.

Submitting Data

Okay, so now you know that an EMR can help you easily track your PQRS data, satisfy the reporting requirements for all your measures, and avoid the penalty. But, I’ve yet to cover one very important part of this whole shebang: actually submitting your PQRS data to Medicare. Here’s the cold, hard truth: not every EMR is equipped to handle your data. So, make sure you look for an EMR with a certified CMS PQRS registry, meaning the system automatically compiles and submits your data to CMS on your behalf. No hassle necessary.

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Attempting to report on PQRS without an EMR is a lot like preparing a hearty meal without hot buns: sad and pointless. All kidding aside, keeping track of all of the regulatory changes on your own is enough to make your head spin. But the right EMR can help you avoid penalties, stay compliant, and cleanly submit data to CMS like a hot knife through butta’.


5 Reasons Why PTs Love Their Cloud-Based EMRs

Some physical therapy clinics seem to have it all together: documentation gets done in a flash, claims are processed—and reimbursed—with ease, and everyone’s up-to-speed on all the latest regulatory changes. Maybe they’re born with it—or maybe it’s their EMR. Great cloud-based EMRs are designed with PTs in mind; these systems help make running a clinic seem like a breeze. Here are the top five reasons why PTs love working with a cloud-based EMR:

1. Affordability

Thanks to the cloud, PTs no longer have to shell out big bucks upfront—or cover the recurring costs associated with manual updates and IT staff—to use server-based EMR systems. Plus, software-as-a-service (SaaS) EMR vendors typically offer month-to-month payment models, making a cloud-based EMR an even less risky investment—an especially crucial selling point for smaller practices. Plus, users of these systems can switch to another EMR at any time. Vendors know this, which means they’re dedicated to providing customers with the highest-quality products and support.

2. Support

Speaking of support, like your best friend (or a pint of ice cream), a good EMR vendor is there when you need it with top-notch customer service. Think you have to bust out a user manual or comb through compiled help files if you have issues during setup or implementation? Not with a cloud-based EMR that’s ready to assist you with how-to guides, extensive knowledge bases, and an expert support staff.

3. Ease-of-use

A great cloud-based EMR is simple, user-friendly, easily scalable, and flexible. PTs love that cloud-based EMR vendors provide constant software and compliance updates to improve the user experience. Some vendors even develop enhancements based on user suggestions. With cloud-based EMR systems, PTs never have to lift a finger to access the newest version of an application or waste time worrying about—or fixing—notes or claims that aren’t up to payers’ standards.

4. Security

When it comes to keeping your patient data safe and secure, never fear—cloud-based EMR is here. With bank-level security encryption, tough password guidelines, automatic data backups, audit trails, super-secure data centers, and specialized staff, cloud-based EMRs have your back (and your front, and your sides, and—you get the picture).

5. Accessibility

PTs enjoy the convenience of working with a truly cloud-based EMR, which can be accessed anytime, anywhere, from any browser, and on any Internet-enabled device (unlike those bulky server-based EMRs, which sit in your office like a bump on a log—and require downloads, installations, and manual upgrades).

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Cloud-based EMR vendors work hard behind the scenes to make documentation, billing, compliance, and practice management less of a hassle—and less of a hit to a clinic’s budget. But it’s not just about saving time and money (or wearing long-lasting makeup). A truly great EMR makes PTs feel all of the feels. Why? Because these features give PTs the freedom to get back to doing what they love most: helping patients.


6 Ways an EMR Keeps Your Data Safe from Hackers

Sadly, the Internet is full of folks looking to steal your personal information, and while most people probably are keenly aware of the need to protect their Social Security numbers (SSNs) and credit card accounts, many don’t realize that their medical identities also are vulnerable to hackers. According to NBC News, the Ponemon Institute estimates more than 2.3 million adult Americans have either been the victim of or know someone who has been a victim of medical identity theft during or before 2014. Even scarier? The institute’s fifth annual survey revealed that medical identity theft rose by 22% in 2014—and that rate shows no signs of slowing down. Forbes reports that in this year alone, three major health insurers—Anthem, Premera, and CareFirst—were hacked. These major data breaches exposed tens of millions of patient records, leaving those patients at risk for medical identity theft.

Using stolen patient information, criminals can fraudulently receive medical care—inherently altering victims’ medical records and racking up costly medical bills in those patients’ names. If you’re a medical provider, the responsibility of preventing data breaches—and the legal and financial consequences of failing to do so—is on you. But you aren’t in this fight alone. Here are several ways top-notch cloud-based EMR systems keep your patient data safe:

1. Bank-level security encryption

An industry standard, bank-level security encryption scrambles up your information (sort of like my breakfast this morning), so you can safely transmit it over the Internet using a cypher (i.e., an encryption algorithm)—like a 256-bit or better Secure Socket Layer (SSL)—and a cipher key. Furthermore, as this resource explains, “Data transmitted over an SSL connection cannot be tampered with or forged without the two parties becoming immediately aware of the tampering.”

2. Password guidelines

Password-protected access is a given for any technology company worth its salt, but your EMR also should have strict password guidelines to better protect your patient data. For extra security, look for the TRUSTe Certified Privacy badge on your EMR vendor’s website. To earn the privilege of displaying that badge, the EMR must:

  1. employ strict password guidelines that ensure complete login security, and
  2. feature unique password-protected access to ensure HIPAA compliance.

3. Automatic data backups

When was the last time you backed up your data? (Insert cricket noises.) Yeah, that’s what I thought. Not to worry: your EMR has your back. Armed with automatic data backups—with multiple replication processes to boot—your EMR will never lose your all-important patient data, even if you lose power or Internet connection.

4. An audit trail

This special feature helps discourage hackers—and fraud in general—by tracking user activity (criminals don’t want to get caught, after all). So long as providers keep it turned on, an audit trail maintains a chronological record of all attempts to access patient data. It records the data accessed, who accessed it, and when and from where it was accessed.

5. Specialized staff

Great customer service reps are hard to find, but when it comes to protecting your patients’ protected health information (PHI), the search is crucial. That’s why awesome EMR vendors take the time to hire and train staff who are well-versed in online security measures and at the ready to provide you with their expertise.

6. Data centers

To ensure HIPAA compliance, the best EMRs house all their—and thus, your—data at state-of-the-art data centers. These data centers must possess bank-level security and supreme encryption methods that render data unreadable—even if hackers somehow get to it. WebPT, for example, stores all of its data at IO Data Center, a Tier III-Certified facility that provides multiple layers of access control, including a defensible perimeter, video surveillance, biometric screening, and round-the­-clock security guards.

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Often, the victims of medical identity theft remain unaware of the crime for months—or even years. Upon discovery, victims usually have a difficult time determining how it happened, and they often struggle to undo the damage. Make sure your patients don’t fall victim to medical identity theft. Web-based physical therapy software vendors—specifically, those that built their systems from scratch with the Internet in mind—are your practice’s best defense against cyber attackers.


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.


Speak and Spell: Sounding Out Common Healthcare Jargon

Imagine: It’s 1985 and you’re fresh out of batteries. And that—unfortunately—means your spelling mentor (housed in bright red plastic) is out of commission for the night. It looks like you’ll be going to bed early—and without the familiar, robotic voice of Speak & Spell to coax you into dreamland. Okay, so you’re probably wondering what an old-school children’s toy has to do with you—or this post. Well, that’s a great question, and the answer lies in the alphabet soup that makes up the modern glossary of healthcare jargon. As a PT, you’re bombarded with new terms that pop up left and right. In fact, with so many new vocab words and acronyms, you might not feel much different than you did as a child in our hypothetical ’80s drama—ready to call it a night. But luckily for you, the human mind doesn’t require batteries (yet) and you won’t have to go to bed early if you can’t make it through this list. With that being said, let’s get to sounding out a few of the most common healthcare jargon terms:

EHR: Electronic health record

Electronic health records (EHRs) are digital records that focus on the overall health of the patient. These systems typically include the patient records, notes, and other medical information that’s easily accessible across multiple specialties and healthcare organizations.

EMR: Electronic medical record

EHR and EMR might seem like interchangeable terms. However, the two are distinctly different. An electronic medical record (EMR) is a digital version of paper documentation. These records typically contain data that can be easily tracked and accessed within a practice. However, they’re not typically designed to integrate with systems in other settings (e.g., labs and specialty medical offices).

FLR: Functional limitation reporting

Floor? Flower? But, without the letters o, w, and e? Well, not quite. Functional limitation reporting (FLR) doesn’t really sound like any of those words. However, it does sound like The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will continue looking for new ways to inform the development rehab therapy payment structures—and FLR is part of these attempts. To satisfy FLR requirements, all eligible Medicare providers must report on their Medicare patients’ functional limitations to objectively demonstrate the connection between rehab therapy and patient progress.

HIPAA: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996

HIPAA sounds a lot like the word hippo. But this law doesn’t spend its time snoozing underwater. Rather, it serves to maintain privacy policy standards in order to protect patients’ sensitive health information per the Privacy Rule. This rule impacts how “covered entities” (e.g., healthcare providers, clearinghouses, health plans, and business associates) handle protected health information (see PHI below).

PHI: Protected health information

“And I’m PHI, PHI falling.” Uh, not quite. Protected health information (PHI) is any health information—in any form—that could individually identify a patient. Typically, PHI refers to patient demographics, but it also includes a variety of other data points that healthcare professionals collect.

PQRS: Physician Quality Reporting System

You might find yourself (or the nearest five-year-old) reciting PQRS as you sing through the alphabet. Or, if you treat Medicare patients, you might find yourself cursing these four letters. PQRS is a CMS system that encourages eligible professionals and group practices to provide measurable data on their quality of care by reporting on a series of measures. As of 2015, practices that do not meet the standards for satisfactory reporting will incur a penalty that will negatively impact reimbursements rates in 2017. Fun, right?

As it turn out, you don’t actually need those glowing green letters to decode the latest healthcare jargon.


How to Implement an EMR in 4 Easy Steps

If your PT clinic currently uses pen and paper for documentation, implementing an electronic medical record (i.e., EMR) in your clinic might seem like a daunting task. All new technology comes with a learning curve, but implementing an EMR system doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are four easy steps to get you up and running:

1. Identify your needs.

As you begin your search for an EMR, you’ll need to examine your clinic’s needs. On the most basic level, your clinic needs an EMR designed with your specific workflow in mind. That means choosing a PT-specific EMR system. The technology should improve your workflow, not make it more difficult. Additionally, the ideal EMR is web-based and comes with month-to-month terms of service. Steer clear of long-term contracts, because if your business changes, your EMR should be able to change with it. For example, you should have the flexibility to add (or remove) users, features, or whatever else your clinic might need. Moral of the story? Figure out your needs, and then choose a system that’s:

  • Web-based,
  • Designed for your speciality, and
  • Flexible enough to accommodate an ever-evolving practice.

2. Investigate technology challenges.

It’s best to base your EMR decision on how the system fits your practice—not on the technology requirements. But if you’re looking at a server-based system, technology requirements are the name of the game. Server-based systems operate using expensive servers that need IT maintenance. That means you have to invest a lot of money in equipment and possibly even bring on new staff members. In addition to the servers, you will need to make sure you have enough computers for all staff members. Furthermore, because a server-based EMR isn’t accessible from any device, it requires downloads and specific software. Web-based solutions, on the other hand, offer everything you need without the technological hassle. A web-based (not web-enabled) EMR is easy to use on any device with Internet capability—sans IT team. Be sure to ask your prospective EMR vendors about technological requirements before you make your buying decision.

3. Boost your Internet speeds.

When you’re looking at implementing a web-based EMR, you’ll want to ensure your Internet speed is fast enough. Additionally, you’ll want to take a look at your modem and router. An old modem and router can slow even the fastest Internet speeds to a snail’s pace. Another Internet speed word of caution: Running web-based applications on many computers and mobile devices can slow you down. For that reason, you’ll want to make sure your Internet connection is at least 10 Mbps (megabits per second) download. Different EMRs require different speeds, but the 10 Mbps rule is a good starting point. Keep in mind that your total Mbps gets divided among all of the devices in use at a particular time—which means the faster your Internet connection, the faster your EMR. If you’re curious about your own Internet speed, check out this speed test (it’s free).

4. Train, train, and train some more.

You may—or may not—include your staff in your EMR buying decisions. But it’s crucial that you do include them in training. For successful EMR implementation in your clinic, you must have your staff on board with the transition. Training is the best way to ensure your employees are comfortable with the new system before you implement it—which in turn boosts their confidence when it comes time to go live. A good EMR vendor will offer high-quality support and training—for free. Exceptional vendors also provide educational blog posts and webinars on a wide variety of PT industry topics as well as on-demand, online training courses.

 

Keep these four tips in mind for a smoother EMR implementation. Have questions? Leave them in the comments section below, and we’ll get you an answer as soon as we can.


5 PT Industry Predictions for 2015

I’m no fortune teller; I don’t have a crystal ball, and I can’t see into the future. But like a good sports analyst or meteorologist, I can make some educated hypotheses. And while I definitely couldn’t tell you who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month—or what the weather will be like at kick-off—I’m pretty confident about these five predictions of the topics and trends that will have the biggest impact on the physical therapy community in 2015:

1. Outcomes

The healthcare industry is changing, and in the never-ending quest to control costs while simultaneously elevating the quality of care patients receive, outcomes have emerged as a vital component of the pay-for-performance reimbursement models many payers are embracing.

For physical therapists, outcomes have traditionally provided a mechanism for staying ahead of the game—for gaining a competitive edge in insurance contract negotiations and referral marketing efforts. As we enter 2015, however, outcomes are fast becoming necessary to merely stay in the game. To truly capitalize on our strengths—and own our roles—as healthcare providers in the current medical landscape, PTs must be able to objectively demonstrate the effectiveness of their care.

You all know how amazing you are; you witness incredible outcomes in your clinics every day. But physicians and insurance companies can’t see those results firsthand; they can’t experience the human impact of what you do. What they can see, though, are the numbers representing those results, and in our increasingly data-driven society, that information holds a lot of weight. Additionally, outcomes tracking allows practices to assess clinical team performance through benchmarking. Practice owners and directors can then use that data to make informed business decisions, enabling them to better manage their therapists and their practices as a whole. After all, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

2. Consolidation

The therapy industry has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. Back when I first started practicing—almost 20 years ago—it was all about the big dogs. Then the economy did a 180, and things started breaking up. At that point, independent private practice clinics stepped into the spotlight, which did wonders in the patient care department. But now, with ever-increasing regulations and declining reimbursements, consolidation is making a comeback. Faced with shrinking profit margins—but not wanting to close their doors for good—many clinic owners are considering joining forces with larger practices that have the business resources necessary to contend with the market forces working against them. And while, according to this report from Harris Williams & Co., smaller, independently-owned practices still account for about 45% of the physical therapy market, many of those businesses are having a tough time expanding “outside of their local footprint due to underdeveloped referral sources and infrastructure.”

So, while I think we’re probably going to see a swing back to a less-fragmented landscape—a return of the big dogs, if you will—I also believe that this time around, things will be a lot different. Why? Well, most importantly, the people at the helm of these large practices are PTs—rather than hired CEO guns. So unlike the private equity-owned, HMO-driven mega-corporations of the past, these owners don’t see patients as just dollar signs. In 2015, I foresee a lot of PT businesses partnering, consolidating, buying in, and taking on private equity funding. And all of that means that influential, business-minded PTs—specifically, some key heavy-hitters in our industry—will maintain the power.

In my book, change is inevitable, and we here at WebPT support industry changes —so long as PTs have the final say over what happens in our profession, and so long as those in this industry make decisions that increase our clout, respect, and autonomy within the healthcare community.

3. ICD-10

Try as they might, ICD-10 resistors aren’t gaining any ground in their efforts to further delay the implementation of these diagnosis codes. And while we may see some additional efforts to put off the inevitable—particularly in conjunction with the SGR fix legislation that likely will come around (again) in March—I truly believe that the switch to ICD-10 will occur October 1, 2015. What does that mean for you and your practice? If you haven’t already started preparing for the transition, then now’s the time to get going. I recommend checking out the resources on ICD10forPT.com. There’s a good deal that goes into getting ICD-10-ready, from learning the new code structure and ensuring the readiness of your vendors to evaluating your staffing needs and preparing for reimbursement delays.

4. EMR Switches

According to Robocop, Back to the Future 2, and The 6th Day, the year 2015 was supposed to feature cyborg police officers, hoverboards, and successful human cloning. Disappointingly, many of us in the healthcare industry instead will start this year with a strong desire to turn our backs on technology—and throw our computers out the window. Why? Well, the majority of our industry has switched from paper charting to EMR documentation, and while we certainly aren’t living in a Robocop-esque dystopian society, many PTs’ EMRs make them feel like they are. That’s why I envision 2015 to be the year of EMR-switching. Ultimately, there’s no reason for any PT to stay stuck in time with his or her lemon of an EMR, because believe it or not, there actually are great EMR systems out there—and there’s nothing fictitious about that science. And in 2015, PTs will go out and find them.

5. The Rise of the Patient

Back in the old days, getting more patients meant you had to get more physician referrals. And while doctors are still an important source of new business for physical therapists, patients are increasingly taking their health into their own hands. Because in this day and age, researching symptoms and vetting treatment options is as easy as hitting your Enter key. With that kind of power, patients no longer have to consult with their primary care providers to learn how physical therapy can help them. And with direct access to therapy services rapidly shifting from being the exception to being the rule—thanks to legislation passed last year, some form of direct access to physical therapy now exists in all 50 states—I predict that in 2015, we will really start to see a deviation from the traditional patient path to PT.

As physical therapists, we’re all about progress—and based on my predictions for 2015, we’re going to see plenty of progress in our industry over the next 12 months. Of course, there will be plenty of challenges, too. But although we might have to break a few tackles, if we keep playing tough—if we can we continue to move the ball down the field—we’ll score some major points this year.