Having worked in ophthalmology for over 35 years in clinical and administrative positions, I’ve seen a lot of transformation, as we constantly are looking for innovative, efficient ways to better care for our patients and keep our practice competitive. One of the most notable shifts I’ve experienced is the rise of electronic health records (EHR).
Gone are the days of a bustling, paper-based medical records department and the countless hours spent sorting through, delivering and organizing hundreds of patient charts. Sure, making the switch from a paper-based system comes with learning curves for providers and practice staff. However, overcoming these challenges is necessary to meet the goal of having the ability to share a patient’s health information between multiple doctors and facilities providing care to patients.
In my role as project manager at EyeCare Associates of East Texas, I was heavily involved in the EHR journey of the practice, and I’ve seen firsthand the changes in workflow and patient care that resulted in the implementation of an EHR system. I will share some of the more significant benefits that this digital records system has brought to our practice.
A support system in compliance and implementation
When our practice made the switch from a paper-based system to EHR technology 5 years ago, the transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10 was the main driver. Because our EHR system came with built-in ICD-10 codes, which are automatically updated, it could generate the diagnosis codes and populate them in the patient record, which would save time and improve the accuracy of the coding process.
Remaining compliant under the Merit-based Incentive Program (MIPS) also has been an important part of having an EHR system. We can now track data and keep tabs on our estimated MIPS scores in each category throughout the year. For example, if one of our providers doesn’t specifically document that a MIPS measure was met during an exam, when in fact it was performed, our EHR system will flag it and prompt us to fill in the missing information. Like any successful ophthalmology practice, our patients are our priority, so it’s a relief for our providers to have a tool we can trust with all the pertinent, yet very complex details.
By automating much of the workflow and information-gathering tasks associated with claims, billing, and reimbursement, our EHR system has increased our ability to stay organized without sacrificing efficiency – or patient care.
Improving communication and organization
The use of an EHR helps enhance clarity, organization, and the flow of communication associated with patient care. For example, with paper-based health records, it wasn’t uncommon for a technician to spend a significant amount of time completing routine tasks like sending a patient’s prescription to the pharmacy. Deciphering the doctor’s handwriting, spending time on hold calling in the prescription, or wrestling with the nearest fax machine were all part of the time-consuming process.
Having clear, structured notes makes a major difference, and the flow of information and records through our cloud-based technology is very quick.
EHR technology is vital to our practice’s organization and helps eliminate misplaced or misfiled paperwork. In the days of paper files, the opportunity for human error was much greater. Despite the team’s best efforts, it wasn’t unheard of for a file to get “lost” in the shuffle, or temporarily placed on the wrong shelf. Now, the automated process has helped decrease this chance for error, savings staff members’ time and reducing stress on both the staff and patients.
Tips when searching for an EHR vendor
One of the most critical steps at the start of our EHR journey was finding the right technology and vendor. During our search, we quickly found that not all EHR technology, or EHR system providers, are equally suited to every practice’s specific needs. (We researched several ophthalmology-specific systems before making our choice.) My advice is to find a team that is invested in your practice’s success and willing to work through every phase of the implementation process. If you have identified a specific need, such as the ability for multiple providers to access records at multiple locations, learn how the prospective vendor will implement this solution. You want to connect and feel comfortable with those who sell the product to you and those you will work with along the way.
Our EHR system provider serves as an extension of our team. They conducted several hands-on trainings, webinars, and workshops with our team throughout implementation and launch. It is vital for the EHR system provider to listen to their customers and continue to improve their product.
Enhancing the patient experience
Our EHR technology has empowered our patients to take a more active role in their eye care. Our patient portal allows patients to access their exam and test results, to see past and future appointments, and to interact with their ophthalmologist through email. They can assist in inputting vital health information into their record and help maintain their current demographic information.
We did not want our patients to feel that laptops or tablets in the exam room would create an impersonal experience and lessen doctor-patient relationships. With our EHR solution, our physicians don’t have to search through multiple screens for the correct one or locate the right input form — the software maps directly to our workflow. This allows our physicians to stay present in the moment, engaging more with the patient and less with the computer screen.
Finally, the cloud-based technology allows our providers the ability to securely view a patient’s current records and address questions or concerns from just about anywhere with an internet connection.
A look at the future of eye care
While the transition from our paper-based approach to new-age technology was a tremendous undertaking, we continue to move forward and embrace the ever-changing future of EHR systems.
This year, we also implemented a new practice management (PM) solution. We had been on our previous PM system for 18 years, so the decision to switch was not taken lightly. One of the key benefits of the integrated system has been that the CPT and ICD-10 codes created in the EHR system from the exam documentation, load directly into the PM system and, in turn, the billing department can easily retrieve information needed to process a claim.
Technology. This is the future of healthcare and of ophthalmology. Integrated, all-in-one EHR systems and further improvements to interoperability will continue to improve patient care. We can now confidently say we have embraced EHRs in the ever-evolving world of ophthalmology.
I often wonder: “What’s next?” Well, only time will tell. OP