Article

ECM, A Vital Addition to EHR

Incorporate old paper files into your new electronic system.

Technology

ECM: A complement to EHR

The management system incorporates old paper files into new electronic records

Phil Britt, contributing editor

“When I see four people scrambling around for something, I want to pull my hair out,” says Keith Froleiks, practice administrator of Rockland Eye in New York. The ophthalmology practice has thrived since opening its doors in the 1960s, but like many other vision care providers, Rockland Eye had struggled with a growing paper-record build-up.

“When I see four people scrambling around for something, I want to pull my hair out,” says Keith Froleiks, practice administrator of Rockland Eye in New York. The ophthalmology practice has thrived since opening its doors in the 1960s, but like many other vision care providers, Rockland Eye had struggled with a growing paper-record build-up.

With two offices, Rockland dealt with the unfortunate issue of files getting lost between locations (as well as within offices). On average, five charts and 2% of the practice’s total database were lost or misplaced every day. These are records that were hard or impossible to replace. Even if the records were located, there was an estimated two hours per day wasted just finding them. It wasn’t just the support staff’s time that was wasted, doctors often stepped in to help as well. “It slowed down the entire office,” Mr. Froleiks recalls.

Keeping track of patient records is essential for efficiency, convenience, legal, business and privacy reasons. But paper records are easy to misplace in file cabinets, desks and elsewhere. The challenge for practices like Rockland Eye is not only to reduce paper to improve efficiency, but also to transition to electronic health records (EHR) for time-saving benefits and to be compliant with government regulations.

Choosing Enterprise Content Management

Though many EHR systems have some document management capabilities, many lack the ability to seamlessly integrate paper records alongside the new digital information in a patient’s chart. At Rockland Eye, Mr. Froleiks was concerned the EHR system’s document management didn’t properly incorporate past and current paper records, so he sought an enterprise content management (ECM) system that could handle these capabilities and work hand-in-hand with the EHR.

An ECM system provides a way to easily and securely store paper records by converting them to electronic images and organizing them in a secure, organized digital storage structure, thereby unlocking their complete value by making them quickly searchable, identifiable and retrievable. By providing different levels of security and authorization, ECM systems also enable office staff to access some records, but only doctors or others with higher levels of authorization to retrieve others. Mr. Froeliks also looked for a system that would encrypt data both during transmission and at rest to provide an extra level of security critical for any data storage systems used in today’s healthcare environment.

Due to the sensitive nature of the medical documents, he also wanted to work with a guaranteed secure ECM provider to incorporate historical charts and new documents so Rockland Eye could have a holistic view of a patient’s health history. Many EHR systems were designed primarily to handle new data and records already in electronic format leaving physicians with an incomplete view of the patient’s medical history and needs. ECM technology complements EHRs by offering doctors the ability to view a complete patient chart, including older, paper-based records within a single interface. Using familiar keyword search tools, the physician searches for the patient ID number or name and receives a listing of every document associated to that individual’s treatment. When integrated within an EHR, as Rockland Eye has done, the data from the ECM system is viewable directly within the EHR application, so everything relevant to the patient’s care is at the provider’s fingertips from a single search.

Selecting the ECM System

Mr. Froleiks eventually found Digitech Systems Inc.’s PaperVision Enterprise, an ECM system that enables patient records and other documents to be stored, filed and retrieved. To obtain the most benefit out of an ECM system, it must also be easy to learn and use so that staff can concentrate on their mission of providing care. Digiscribe, a Digitech Systems reseller, trained an administrator and other system users at Rockland Eye in a single day.

To locate any chart using the ECM system, a doctor or other authorized staff member simply hits a button and the chart loads immediately. All records are backed up automatically to ensure their availability.

Quickly Realized Benefits

The benefits of the ECM system became quickly evident. “Accessing historic patient records is quick and easy,” says Rockland Eye’s Jeffrey Leen. MD. “The information is right at my fingertips. I can now access records offsite, regardless of whether a patient has been in an office since our conversion to electronic charting. This has proven invaluable when I am on-call after hours or on weekends.”

Other benefits are reflected in the practice’s bottom line. An old room that had been used simply for file storage has been converted into an additional exam room, contributing to an additional $75,000 in revenue each year.

Rockland Eye values the staff time saved to be $20,000 a year (based on $80 a day in staff time no longer lost in looking for paper records). Now, rather than wasting this time looking for paper records, the staff can dedicate all of their efforts to patient care. Two people who had previously worked at the front desk are now able to focus their time on other administrative duties.

Combining EHR & ECM for Measurable Gains

The addition of ECM functionality to an EHR system provided efficiency and cost savings for Rockland Eye. Practice leaders who also seek to fully streamline costs, maximize office efficiencies and improve patient care should not overlook the management of their practices’ paper records.

Paper files may never fully leave the healthcare practice and patient management experience. However, a system structured to manage both in a single, seamless environment may produce great gains for practice leaders. OP