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Business & Profession Practice Management, Business and Innovation, Health Economics and Policy

Just for the Record

It has been more than a decade since the US government introduced Meaningful Use legislation and the subsequent rush to implement electronic health records (EHRs). At this point, use of the technology is nearly ubiquitous across the field of ophthalmology. However, just because a practice has an EHR doesn’t mean the system effectively supports the organization’s strategic goals around quality, efficiency and patient satisfaction. EHRs have evolved dramatically in recent years, and the system you bought over 10 years ago may no longer be fully meeting your needs today – whether you know it or not.

Here, I explore five areas where your current system may be underperforming – and share how more sophisticated solutions may offer opportunities to improve. 

Enabling documentation specificity
In the haste to onboard EHRs, specialty practices (including ophthalmologists) often opt for “off-the-shelf” solutions that are readily available for implementation. Unfortunately, generic ambulatory EHRs contain a great deal of information that is not relevant to ophthalmology. Even more problematic, these solutions don’t contain critical information that ophthalmologists actually do need, including condition lists and protocols. And that can cause physicians to spend critical time during the patient visit searching for information to document the episode, distracting them from the patient, causing frustration and resulting in a less-than-optimal patient experience.

When an EHR is designed with ophthalmology in mind, it can deliver the detail needed without all the extraneous information.

However, when an EHR is designed with ophthalmology in mind, it can deliver the detail needed without all the extraneous information. Going a step further, if the EHR uses adaptive template technology, it can generate pick lists that include only relevant choices based on patient history and problem lists, filtering out options that don’t apply and eliminating findings that are not pertinent to the patient. When an EHR is customizable with templates and drop down menus that can be tailored to provider preferences, it can boost efficiency even further. Robust technology, such as auto-complete drawings of the eye based on exam findings, can also expedite this cumbersome aspect of ophthalmology documentation. 

Ensuring robust data collection
A primary function of an EHR is to collect data. So, when a solution falls short in this regard, it may limit opportunities for your practice. Conversely, when solutions are designed to capture the full detail of a patient encounter and identify when required content could be missing, it can support better quality reporting and stronger reimbursement. For example, with detailed data, your practice can determine whether you’re submitting the optimal quality measures for MACRA or whether there are others that better reflect practice performance. Once you determine the measures you want to send, real-time regulatory performance monitoring can identify whether a patient qualifies for those measures and then present you with data fields related to those measures during the patient encounter. In other words, you can collect the appropriate information while the patient is still in the room. Greater specificity can also yield more comprehensive coding, which is key to demonstrating medical necessity and receiving suitable reimbursement. 

Fostering greater mobility
Over the last 10 years, there has been an explosion in cloud-based technology, which offers several benefits over traditional hosted options (where software is installed on a server located in the practice office). For example, cloud-based solutions offer the latest software features and functionalities without having to go through onerous upgrades. A vendor can make changes in the cloud and, when you next log into the system, new features are immediately available for use. Additionally, of course, cloud-based solutions also support greater access from any location. Providers that have multiple locations can travel freely between sites and have immediate access to patients’ medical records without losing information in transit. Physicians can also respond to patient needs more quickly if they receive an urgent call outside of regular business hours, using laptops or mobile devices to securely access the system. 

Elevating the patient experience
More than ever, patients want a service-focused healthcare experience, and they are willing to spend time seeking out those providers who deliver it. What does that look like for patients? Straightforward appointment scheduling, limited wait times, efficient appointments, and easy access to providers outside of office visits. Traditional EHRs can struggle to enable such convenience, resulting in a suboptimal patient experience. 

Modern options, however, can streamline patient access, allowing individuals to schedule appointments easily and check in remotely. They can also facilitate a connected care experience, with portals fostering more communication outside of the appointment and embedded telehealth solutions that support remote care for patients who are unable to visit the office. These EHRs can also help ease the payment process, allowing patients to make payments at the point of care or via their phone or tablet. When payment solutions are integrated with the EHR and practice management system, providers begin to offer services that not only drive patient payment but also increase satisfaction. 

Strengthening the patient pipeline

For ophthalmologists, a solid referral network is critical to maintaining a thriving practice.

For ophthalmologists, a solid referral network is critical to maintaining a thriving practice. The right EHR can nurture these relationships, helping you identify where referrals are coming from and then efficiently sharing information in a HIPAA-compliant manner to facilitate greater collaboration and ensure care continuity. You can also use referral data to uncover areas of opportunity to expand the practice, focusing marketing and communication efforts on referral sources that have the most potential for growth. 

Five key areas where a new EHR could help improve performance

  • Greater documentation efficiency and specificity 
  • Robust data capture for better quality reporting and stronger reimbursement 
  • Enhanced mobility for practices on the go
  • Elevated customer experience with greater convenience and access
  • A stronger referral pipeline to grow the practice over time

Recognizing the problem is the first step
If you want to stay competitive in today’s healthcare marketplace, merely having any old EHR is no longer good enough. Practices that acknowledge and address the disconnect between current functionality and what patients expect, need or deserve in the short and long term will be the first to embrace more efficient, higher-quality, patient-centric care – and the most likely to succeed.

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About the Author
Jason Handza

Vitreoretinal surgeon and Chief Medical Officer for Nextech, a comprehensive specialty-specific EHR & Practice Management provider. He is based in Trinity, Florida, USA.

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