Physical Therapy EMR: Smarter, Faster, and Better Than Ever

Technology moves at lightning speed, and that leaves many EMR systems looking outdated and cluttered with burdensome processes—at best. That said, one technology model rises above the rest in the physical therapy EMR game: SaaS, or software as a service. TechTarget defines SaaS as “a software distribution model in which applications are hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available to customers over a network, typically the Internet.” In the EMR market, SaaS vendors are improving software implementation, updates, and usability while addressing customer needs quickly and consistently.

Implementation

When you use a server-based EMR, getting up and running means going through a strict, inflexible implementation process. While some EMRs on the market today still require practices to jump through tons of hoops just to get started, cloud-based EMR systems are doing things differently. Thanks to the SaaS model, users can start using the software after a short setup period. This typically involves configuring settings and/or importing data. The best part? The implementation process now fits provider’s schedules—not the other way around. Now, practices can get going with their new EMRs faster than ever before, all while experiencing minimal disruption to their operations—and their cash flow.

Updates

The process of updating cloud-based EMRs also has greatly improved. Now, updates can occur as frequently as multiple times a day. That way, everyone always has the latest version of the software—without the inconvenience of manual upgrades. Moreover, changes are made more incrementally, which minimizes disruption to users and makes it easier for them to learn and adapt as the software evolves. Another plus: Providers aren’t responsible for managing the updates. As this Handshake article highlights, “Under the SaaS model, since the software is hosted by the vendor, they take on the responsibility for maintaining the software and upgrading it, ensuring that it is reliable and meeting agreed-upon service level agreements, and keeping the application and its data secure.”

Usability

Modern SaaS vendors improve EMR usability through thoughtful iterations that greatly increase system customization. Additionally, the SaaS model allows applications to adapt to the device each person is using, thus ensuring the most important functionality is available in the right context. Any iPad fans out there? Well, thanks to cloud-based technology, your EMR can adapt to your favorite device. Finally, as this TechSoup article points out, increased usability of SaaS technology eliminates the need for a robust IT team because cloud-based software systems “generally don’t require specialized knowledge for day-to-day operation and maintenance.”

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So, what EMR system is smarter, faster, and better than ever? One that uses a technology-focused SaaS model that offers superior usability, automatic updates, and simple implementation.


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.


Use at Your Own Risk: The Downside of Server-Based Systems

Server-based EMR systems are risky business—and not in the fun, dance-in-your-skivvies-and-socks kind of way. These chunky monkeys are chock-full of old technology that expose your clinic to compliance risks and data losses. Here’s why you should steer clear of server-based systems:

Your PHI is only as secure as your clinic.

Most web-based EMR vendors store all their data with top-tier security firms, so you can be sure your patients’ protected health information (PHI) is safe. But if you have a server-based system, all your priceless information is stored on-site—often unencrypted—which makes the responsibility of securing your patients’ PHI yours and yours alone. Unless you’re storing your servers in a bank vault (and who has that kind of space?), you run the risk of a full-on HIPAA breach.

You can lose your data.

Keeping your information safe from PHI predators isn’t the only reason you should stay away from server-based systems. You also have to worry about keeping your information—period. When you use a web-based system, all your information backs up to the cloud. With servers, what you see is what you get—and when you lose the server, you could lose your clinic, too. Studies show that more than 50% of small businesses close up shop within a year of a major data loss. Those odds will never be in your favor.

You have to get down and dirty with upgrades.

If you have a server-based EMR, it’s up to you to maintain your system—and that includes performing all system upgrades. As you know, regulations change quickly and often, so you need your system to stay up to date. If you miss an update—or if your system doesn’t update at all—you’re putting yourself at risk for non-compliance. And that comes with a heap of nasty consequences like penalties, fees, rejected claims, and audits. Think system maintenance sounds tough? You’re right. If the upgrades are particularly difficult—or if you aren’t technologically inclined—you may even have to hire IT staff, which can be quite expensive. You’re better served (pardon the pun) using a system that handles updates for you.

 

Server-based systems are on the path to extinction for a reason: they can’t provide clinics with the security and reliability of their web-based counterparts. Unless you’re willing to gamble with your practice—and your reputation—ditch the digital dinosaur and move your files to the cloud.


The Software Bamboozle No One in the PT Industry is Talking About

Nowadays, shopping for business software is a lot like shopping for a car. You do a lot of online research; you ask friends and coworkers for their recommendations; and you take some test drives. One thing—besides the price tag—that can ruin the whole experience? You pulling out of the lot with your shiny, new investment—and an uneasy inkling that maybe, just maybe, you got the wool pulled over your eyes.

Of course, when you buy a car and you get that feeling, you talk to folks about it. The same can’t be said for the PT industry, though. Certain software have been duping us for many years now—and yet, we remain silent. That stops today. There are three ways physical therapy software vendors have been bamboozling their prospective customers. Let’s take a closer look.

The Web-Enabled Smoke and Mirrors

True web-based EMR systems store data within secure data centers; nothing is downloaded, installed, or stored on any customers’ computers. Customers then access that data via web browsers (e.g., Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Internet Explorer) using any device connected to the Internet. Essentially, this is how you use a web-based EMR system:

  1. You visit the website of the EMR system.
  2. You log in.
  3. You conduct your business directly through your secure login on the website.
  4. When you’re finished, you log off.

Web-enabled EMRs, on the other hand, require you to download and install a software platform that then connects to the Internet. As this article explains, “…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.” This means that like server-based systems, web-enabled ones only allow users to access the program on the computer to which it’s installed. Furthermore, every time there’s an update or upgrade, you’ve got to download and install more stuff. You also must deal with all the security drawbacks of server-based systems (i.e., storing data on local servers and managing all the hardware yourself). Plus, as the above-cited article states, “…your EMR and its data does not update online in real time,” and that’s problematic if you have multiple clinics or different therapists accessing records simultaneously. Individuals could access or alter outdated information, or accidentally save over others’ work.

In addition to coming with all of these significant drawbacks, these EMRs also usually charge per chart or employ pricing structures similar to those of their server-based forebearers, which typically involve upfront expenses, maintenance fees, and the like.

In short, web-enabled systems don’t satisfy the demands of a growing business because they’re ineffective at scaling. Vendors of these systems know that, and that’s why they never just come right out and say they’re web-enabled. Instead, they either a.) don’t specify what type of platform they are, or b.) say they’re “cloud-based” and hope that you—the customer—are none the wiser. Don’t fall for the old smoke-and-mirrors trick. After all, if a company isn’t truthful about its platform functionality, what else are they hiding?

Ask your current EMR or—if you’re shopping around—any systems on your “yes” list the following questions:

  1. Do I need to download or install anything? (With a true web-based system, you shouldn’t have to.)
  2. Does the system need to sync with the Internet periodically to update my online data? (A true web-based EMR is always functioning—and saving your data—in real time.)
  3. Will I need to store any data locally? (With a true web-based EMR, you don’t need to store any data on your computer.)
  4. When it’s time to document, how do I open the EMR? (With web-enabled software, you’ll open the program on your computer, and it’ll connect to the web. With a truly web-based system, you’ll visit a website to log in.)

The “Free” EMR Gimmick

In the world of PT, clinics typically rely on two types of software: electronic medical record systems, which handle documentation and scheduling, and revenue cycle management (RCM), which handles accounts payable and receivable. As this blog post explains, “Sometimes, you’ll see vendors advertising an ‘all-in-one’ solution, which implies the EMR and RCM live within one system…Other vendors will tout an ‘integrated solution,’ which is basically a fancy term for an EMR or RCM system that integrates with other softwares.” For an in-depth discussion of each setup’s pros and cons, I recommend this article.

One major reason to avoid the all-in-one system, though, is its fee model. Often, the vendor will offer the EMR portion of its software for free in order to gain your business. Then, you simply pay for the RCM. But watch the pricing on this “deal”; sometimes, vendors will charge high percentages per reimbursement for billing, which means the more money you make, the greater your vendor’s cut. Your billing software should take the smallest percentage possible, and the money you’d save with a “free” EMR definitely doesn’t make up for an overcharging RCM.

Before committing to any software, make sure you ask about its pricing structure and how it adjusts for your business’s growth. Then, compare it with other systems’ pricing to gauge whether the giveaways really make for a better deal.

The Per-Patient Pricing Hustle

Software costs money. But every system charges its customers in a different way and at a different rate. It’s imperative that you understand your EMR vendor’s pricing structure, because some systems charge per patient visit or chart. And that’s detrimental to your practice’s cash flow. Here’s why: The more patients you generate, the more visits you’ll have or the more charts you’ll create. That means you pay more as your business grows. In other words, you’re punished for being more successful.

Your EMR should work for you and your business, not the other way around. So, instead, look for an EMR solution with a per-user pricing model. Also, investigate whether the company sets different rates for different user types. Finally, look for a system with a cancel-anytime subscription model. This ensures you know what you’re paying for from the get-go—no surprise fees or rate hikes. That’s the kind of EMR system that works for scale.

 

Now that I’ve essentially shown you the “EMRFAX,” you’re in the driver’s seat—and you shouldn’t have any uneasy feelings or buyer’s remorse as you drive your physical therapy software off the lot. Be well-informed when you shop for EMR, RCM, and practice management platforms; trust your gut; and ask not only a lot of questions, but the right questions. You might not be able to out-sell a salesperson, but you can certainly outsmart ’em.


Avoid These Common EMR Pitfalls

You’re shopping around for an electronic medical record (EMR) solution for your physical therapy practice, and boy, are there a lot of options. You’re trying to make up your mind, but you need to be absolutely sure. After all, implementing an EMR is a big commitment, one that will dramatically affect your clinic’s workflow. The last thing you need is a nagging feeling that this major change won’t absolutely be for the better. To prevent any inkling of buyer’s remorse, be sure to avoid these common pitfalls during the EMR selection process:

Cost-per-chart or per-visit pricing

The EMR solution you choose should help your clinic’s cash flow—not deplete it. So, select one that offers a cost-per-user payment structure rather than a cost-per-visit or cost-per-chart plan. You want your visits to increase as you grow your business; you shouldn’t have to pay more to your EMR as a result. Plus, the minimum monthly payment for per-char or per-visit structures typically far exceeds the price of a cost-per-user (membership-style) system.

And while we’re on the topic of cost, web-based solutions far outshine server-based ones because most server-based EMR systems come with a hefty capital investment upfront, especially if they require expensive hardware.

Limited accessibility

As a therapist, you’re busy—constantly on the move. Make sure your EMR can move with you. Look for a solution that is truly web-based (not web-enabled), so you can access it from anywhere and at anytime. And while you’re at it, make sure you can access your web-based EMR from any web-enabled device (i.e., Macs, PCs, iPads, and tablets). Also, ensure the web-based EMR you choose is browser-neutral, which means that no matter what browser (e.g., Safari, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Internet Explorer) or version of that browser (e.g., IE7 vs. IE9) you use to access the Internet, the application will work.

One-size-fits-all system

You want an EMR tailored to your practice and profession, so avoid generalist EMRs. How? If you see the words physician, doctor’s office, hospital, or skilled nursing anywhere on the EMR’s homepage, scratch that vendor off your list. Instead, look for an EMR that is specifically for physical or rehab therapy. If you have a different therapy specialty, such as speech-language, occupational, pelvic health, or pediatrics, be sure to find out whether the EMR has modules that support your specialty.

Meaningful Use certification

As a healthcare professional, you’ve most likely heard of Meaningful Use. As as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the federal government is offering financial incentives to ‘eligible professionals’ who use electronic health records in their practices. According to this blog post, though, there’s a big 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.’” However, just because an EMR is Meaningful Use-certified does not mean it’ll suit your practice. The federal government is doling out quite substantial incentives (up to $44,000 through the Medicare incentive program and up to $63,750 through the Medicaid incentive program), so you can imagine plenty of companies are eager to take advantage of the certification.

But here’s the real kicker: as a physical therapist, you are not considered an “eligible professional” for Meaningful Use. Therefore, you cannot earn the incentive for using a Meaningful Use-certified EMR. Furthermore, these vendors tailor their EMR systems to those who are considered “eligible professionals,” like physicians, hospitals, and critical-access hospitals, so if you choose one of these systems, you’re automatically falling into the previous trap—using an EMR that’s not designed for you.

No support necessary

As I stated at the beginning of this post, selecting an EMR is a big decision. So, it shouldn’t be like buying a sack of potatoes—no instructions, no training, no follow-up—just you and your newly bought potatoes, hanging out in your kitchen. Rather, there should absolutely be instructions, training, and follow-up. If an EMR is touting that it’s so easy to use that there’s no training necessary, then that’s an EMR you should avoid, because it’s either a.) not easy but they don’t have the money to offer you training, b.) incredibly rudimentary, or c.) quite tricky and training is an “add-on” that they’ll price gouge you for later.

All that said, there are some EMRs that are more intuitive and easier to learn than others. You want one of those EMRs, but you also want that EMR to provide free in-depth training and free unlimited support.

These pitfalls are common, but your practice needn’t succumb to them. Be mindful of these traps as you shop. Want more assistance? Here is a list of questions to ask EMR vendors.