EHRs are not a business strategy

Since their inception, EHRs have been a touchy subject.
By Joel French
02:16 PM

Somehow health systems have adopted the notion that electronic health records are central to their competitive strategies – viewing the technology’s capabilities beyond their original design and intent.

EHRs were created to collect information and help practitioners from within the four walls of the health system make better informed decisions; they weren’t built to connect hospitals with their trading partners, nor were they built to solve critical business issues such as dwindling reimbursements and the transition away from fee-for-service to value-based care.

In fact, once all health systems inevitably implement EHRs, they become another toolset within the hospital; they become expected assets of the institutions, not unlike thermometers, stethoscopes or examining rooms. What they don’t do is provide a market advantage. A successful provider network will look to cost-effective cloud-based solutions to complement EHRs, broaden and connect the care community, grow revenue, create workflow efficiencies and, ultimately, provide a truly competitive advantage.

The problem with EHRs

Since their inception, EHRs have been a touchy subject. Operating executives have acknowledged the importance of upgrading outdated analog tools and implementing effective instruments for retrieving patient data, entering orders, receiving results and documenting visits. But they have also admitted their disappointment in the resources – both financial and operational. Physicians have also been vocal in their dislike of EHRs, pointing to the technology’s disruptive nature and time-consuming requirements.

Hospital executives that expected to see returns on their EHR investments have been disillusioned, knowing now that new revenue opportunities originate outside of those walls. Inpatient admissions and surgical procedures are no longer contributing needed revenue growth, as volumes are being reclassified and transitioned to outpatient settings.

As Moody’s Investors Service has reported, nonprofit hospitals’ income declined for the second straight year in 2013. Hospitals must turn their attention to technologies that can connect the broader community of independent providers, uncovering the value in new referral sources and effective care coordination. EHRs were not designed to meet this need.

The cloud-based solution

Regardless of EHRs’ deficiencies, the initial decision to digitize was not wrong – it was necessary to improve efficiency. But that action was a one-time occurrence and should not be viewed as a competitive strategy.

Though arguably useful in the long term, investments into EHR technologies do not improve outpatient revenue and associated contribution margins. And with the shift to value-based care, it is more important than ever that health systems prioritize care coordination across organizational boundaries. EHRs’ limitations in this area can be detrimental to a health system’s business strategy.

Network providers must turn to additional tools that can help fill the holes left by EHRs. Inexpensive cloud-based software can help supply what EHRs lack – the ability to quickly grow outpatient volume, curtail network leakage and lift contribution margins. These tools act as referral management platforms and assist in scheduling and analytics. They are designed to interoperate with EHRs, adding new value to the tool and potentially helping create the investment returns that were originally expected.

Health system executives who want to create a competitive advantage will think beyond EHRs, unlocking value unknown to those who simply implement the same cookie-cutter tools as their competitors. 

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