EHRs for Small-Scale Practices: Qualities, Benefits & Pricing

EHR

Healthcare IT is driving focus on patient-centric care and improving access to patient data for physicians and patients. A noteworthy trend is the burgeoning adoption of EHR (Electronic Health Records) or EMR (Electronic Medical Records) software by individual practitioners or medical facilities. Patient health records are vital for all stakeholders in a healthcare ecosystem, including physicians, clinics, hospitals, patients, pharmacists, nurses, staff and other specialists in a care team. So, accessibility and transferability of patient medical records helps enhance efficiency, transparency, care outcomes and preventive care for patients.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in its Global Health Observatory (GHO) third global survey had taken note of a steadily growing adoption of national electronic health record (EHR) systems as early as in 2016. The survey pitched the worldwide rate of increasing use of EHRs at 46% for the last five years that the survey covered.

So, let us try to dig deep into an understanding of the benefits, usability trends, cost and other parameters associated with electronic health records (EHRs) solutions.

What do EHRs stand for?

Electronic health records or EHRs are digital records of patient health information. They are the electronic replacements of paper charts that carry medical history, diagnoses, vital signs and symptoms, progress notes, family medical history, medication, prescriptions, prescription history, immunization dates, treatment plans, allergies, imaging reports, radiology images, lab results and other medical details of scores of patients. A few advanced EHR systems also contain demographic data, data captured from personal wellness devices and insurance information of patients.

Where are EHRs used?

Electronic health records are a health document shared among various doctors, facilities and institutions that constitute a patient’s care team. They provide accessibility to critical clinical data to providers located at different care sites and organizations, such as clinics, hospitals, diagnostic labs, pharmacies and imaging or emergency facilities. EHRs automate tasks related to storage and access to patient medical records letting doctors focus better on practice. Consequently, care outcomes can be improved and workflows streamlined. EHRs strengthen the relationship between providers and patients on the one hand and improve connectivity among various providers, pharmacists, nurses and staff members on the other.

What are the various advantages of EHRs? How do they improve patient care?

Coordinated care

EHR systems provide instant access to and update patient data for various providers across practices and facilities. This allows coordinated care among all the specialists in a care team as well as organizations, such as labs, imaging or emergency facilities and pharmacies due to direct access to accurate and updated documents. Additionally, some EHR solutions have the ability to directly or indirectly aid in other clinical activities, such as quality management, evidence-based decision support and outcomes reporting. They facilitate real-time exchange of various types of patient-related information among clinicians, pharmacists, staff, patients and nurses. Patient data, the timeliness, upgrades and the availability of it paves the way for informed decision making and care in various healthcare settings.

Improved patient care

A major functionality of EHRs is e-prescribing. Doctors can create digital prescriptions using EHR software that reduce the incidence of medical errors due to handwriting or comprehension issues by patients or pharmacists. At the same time, electronic health records enhance precision and clarity in various patient documents like lab reports, patient/family medical history, progress notes and treatment programs leading to better care and safety results. By presenting patient data in meaningful ways to specialists at the point of care, EHR software leads to improved decisions with regards to the treatment plan. EHRs can also aid in diagnosis by giving providers immediate end-to-end access to a patient's health status and medical information. By gaining a comprehensive view of patient health reports, doctors can diagnose and detect underlying conditions in time.

Preventive care

Proper medical roadmaps in EHR software help minimize duplication of tests, delays in treatment and redundancy of effort. Less prescription errors help avoid wrong medication incidence and related side effects.

Patient empowerment

EHR systems involve patients as key partners in medical care. As healthcare is getting more and more digitized, EHRs play an important role in providing 24/7 remote access to medical records to a large number of patients.

Effective storage and retrieval

EHR solutions have modernized the way we record and process patient medical records. Patient data can be shared among various stakeholders via network-connected, enterprise-wide IT systems or other information networks that go beyond an enterprise. We no longer have stacks of paper files of patient reports, prescriptions, medical history, medication, immunization dates, allergies, treatment plans and lab results. Advanced EHR solutions also allow transferability of multimedia information, including medical imaging results. Some solutions also support linking of medical records to sources of relevant and latest research in various medical specializations.

What are the best characteristics for EHRs suitable for small-scale practices?

Small practices address the healthcare requirements of patients in a particular geographical area. Majority of them may rely on a paper-based system of tracking patient records and generating prescriptions. However, with the expansion of business, even small practitioners may want to switch to electronic health records or EHR systems in case handling patient data becomes increasingly difficult with paper documents.

If you’re aiming at a high return on investment for your small-scale clinic/practice, some of the most desirable qualities to look for in an EHR software are:

Billing

EHR systems often come with billing functionality built into them that lets you manage all billing-related tasks. You can rest assured about hassle-free payment settlement and quicker billing processing with a digital platform. Issue electronic bills that the patients can pay digitally, thereby cutting unnecessary snags, delays and miscommunications in the payment process.

Reports

Several EHR systems generate analytical reports to give in-depth insights into your business performance. Customizable settings for reports will prove helpful during business meetings with various stakeholders when intensive understanding and analysis of your practice is required. You can pull up templates for ease as and when required and automatically create new documents based on the type of data and schedule you specify.

Scalability

An EHR system should be capable of managing medical records in case your patient base is proliferating or your business offerings are increasing. The software should be able to archive and accommodate large patient databases along with their medical records.

For instance, if you opt for a system integrated with a patient portal, all patient information will be filled out by patients themselves instead of your staff handing out papers to patients in the waiting room. The process of inputting patient details will be speedier and redundant requests for the same inquiries - allergies, emergency contacts, family medical details - will not be made multiple times. Your staff will be saved from the troublesome paperwork of entering patient data from paper forms.

Flexibility

Check out products with innovative features like speech recognition that allow doctors to record machine-readable text just by talking to the software. This will be cost and time saving and help increase productivity at point of care. There are a range of more advanced functionalities in EHRs that will help drive efficiency for your practice and business. A thorough market research should be able to suffice your purpose of finding a suitable solution.

How much do EHRs cost?

Computing pricing of EHRs is not a straightforward process. There may be undeclared or hidden costs involved with regards to maintenance. The best approach is to have detailed discussions with your team and ascertain your precise requirement. Online research and meetings with shortlisted vendors will help you understand the actual cost of an EHR system along with its various add-on features for the size of your business. You can compare the pricing of top-rated EHR systems to understand the cost trends in this market. Product cost, installation charges and long-term digital storage costs may be incurred separately. Finally, think from all perspectives and settle for the product that best fits your price point.

Arriving at a ballpark estimate of your current administrative costs with regards to patient data maintenance will also be worthwhile. This should entail the cost of file storage, maintenance, arranging accessibility and physical space expenses. Once you have reached your approximate figures, you can analyze how much overhead costs and working capital investment you will be saving with an EHR software in place in your facility.

Switching from paper-based patient records to a full-fledged EHR setup will prove fruitful for small-scale practices. Remember to consider the aforesaid pointers to select the best software solution suited for your requirements.