EHRs are the problem, not the solution

By Healthcare IT News
12:00 AM
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Contrary to media and government rhetoric, today’s medical practices can survive without implementing an electronic health record. The EHR is simply a basic undoing of the way physicians customarily practice medicine. It’s an extremely costly approach and has even been shown to reduce productivity in the first year after implementation.

Hospital- and office-based physician groups that implement an enterprise document management solution not only survive – but also thrive – without an EHR.

That’s not to say they don’t need any technology. Unlike EHRs, document management software designed for healthcare enterprises provides significant efficiencies to a practice without changing the way physicians practice medicine or document patient exams. These solutions improve productivity, efficiency, and profitability without high costs, high risks of failure, and significant office disruption.

When comparing document management and EHR, it’s difficult to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison. That’s because document management was built from the ground-up as an operational solution while EHRs are built from the ground-up as clinical documentation tools. However, it is important to analyze how these business solutions will resolve the immediate needs of the practice and influence productivity.

Nearly 85 percent of respondents to a recent survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians said that quick access to patient records was the EHR feature that proved most beneficial to their practice. Medical practices utilizing an enterprise-grade document management solution achieve the same access to their medical records from any remote location in a manner to which they are already accustomed – without complicated and costly EHR applications.

A benchmark survey of 3,300 practices conducted by the Medical Group Management Association  in collaboration with the University of Minnesota indicates that medical practices found it significantly more difficult to implement EHRs than they had anticipated. In addition to the high initial purchase cost, respondents experienced up to a 15 percent reduction in productivity at least through the implementation and acclimation period, usually lasting a year or more. These factors, combined with a lack of reliable financial cost/benefit studies of EHR implementation, made it difficult to establish a business case for EHR adoption.

That same MGMA study reported that the average cost of implementing an EHR per physician is $33,000. (The license cost per physician is just a small portion of the total purchase price – with hardware, implementation and training service costs additional.)

Financial burden and lost productivity are clearly adverse byproducts of an EHR purchase. Coupled with a nearly 50 percent failure rate for EHRs, it is no wonder that many physician practices find the decision so daunting to move forward technologically. Caught in this Catch 22, many physician groups do nothing – and that’s no solution. Almost 65 billion pieces of paper bury today’s 750,000 practicing physicians, and those paper patient charts are not going anywhere any time soon until these medical practices do something.

The format everyone is already comfortable with is paper. Subsequently, document management’s operational approach to eliminating paper-based charts takes the simplest, most direct route possible:

    • Scan in the paper documents.

    • File e-documents without printing to paper.

    • Organize and arrange them so that they can be quickly accessed electronically.

    • Accommodate physician workflow without changing physician behaviors.

    • Accommodate support staff workflow. without being a burden.

    • Accomplish this with non-proprietary formats such as PDFs and JPGs to protect physicians’ future interests.

    • Make certain the solution is easy for all to learn and use.

It is painfully apparent that physician practices – regardless of size – need a common sense solution to respond to the financial, regulatory and quality-of-life challenges of today’s medical practices.

Document management solutions designed for healthcare enterprises establish a comfort zone for both physicians and their staff members to embark upon a new era of paperless operations. By implementing a document management solution, practices will eliminate the high stress levels and frustrations caused by paper-based operations. Additionally, document management can prepare physicians, both mentally and financially, for the EHR of their choosing. If, or when, medical practices add robust clinically based EHRs, document management continues to play a critical role in supporting practices to attain peak efficiency.

Evan Steele is CEO of SRS Software, Inc. (www.srssoft.com). Freedom Chart Manager™, SRS’ flagship solution, is a document management solution for healthcare enterprises that automatically converts charts into a new paperless environment.