Electronic Medical Records: Are you ready for what’s next?

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By John Sailer: Senior Editor

 
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Any eyecare professional who is not already aware that the government is offering financial incentives for installing electronic medical records (EMR) in their practices is dangerously behind the times. While ECPs have been bombarded for the past few years with information about the possibility of receiving as much as $44,000 for the “meaningful use” of certified software, this is only the beginning, a means to an end of what the implementation of EMR is really about.

Ultimately, EMR reaches well beyond these basics of incentive payments. The paramount goal is improving the efficiency with which all health care professionals store, access and share information, thereby resulting in better patient care and overall health. And this overhaul will be driving practice success for years to come.

Of course, the incentives established when Congress passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009 have proven very effective at getting the ball rolling, encouraging ECPs to install EMR in their offices. According to the American Optometric Association, through September 2012, 3,089 optometrists have been paid $48,297,933 in the Medicare EMR incentive program, which includes, collectively, $38,793,993 for meaningful use in 2011 and $9,504,000 for meaningful use in 2012.

The results of Review of Optometry’s 35th Annual Diagnostic Technology Survey (Sept. 15, 2012) also illustrate EMR’s rapid implementation. EMR software was the number one choice, at 41 percent, for optometrists who were asked, “What type of new technology are you now considering purchasing (or have purchased in the past three years)?” In addition, as many as 64 percent of respondent ODs now use an EMR compared with only 39 percent in 2009, the year the HITECH Act was passed.

An even larger percentage of physicians in the overall health care community are embracing EMR, according to a study continuing through 2013 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. It found that 55 percent of U.S. doctors have instituted some type of EMR.

Those who have begun using EMR in their day-to-day practices are already realizing the benefits. Practitioners are no longer chained to their desks or diagnostic equipment when reviewing patient data but rather can access it from anywhere they have a computer, tablet or smartphone with an internet connection. Similarly, information can also be electronically accessed by other practitioners as well as by patients themselves. EMR can prove to be a benefit to the bottom line as well. Just some examples of this are that improved efficiencies can help reduce staffing needs while freeing up time to see more patients, and electronic storage requires far less space than paper records, resulting in the possibility of reducing necessary real estate.

“The push wasn’t just to get people on electronic health records and get everyone using iPads and laptops,” said Steve Baker, president, Eyefinity. “It was done to share data and seek to lower the cost of health care, which won’t happen until the health care community goes electronic.”

Vision Monday has explored some of the ways that EMR goes beyond just stimulus money, helping to make ECPs more efficient and ultimately, hopefully, make patients healthier:

  • Cloud computing enables practices to store their data offsite, accessing it from anywhere and eliminating the need to maintain and update in-house servers.
  • Integrating instruments with EMR software saves time and eliminates human data entry errors by electronically transferring information from the diagnostic device directly into the patient record.
  • Image management systems do the same, but on a bigger scale, for the large-file digital pictures these devices take when monitoring patients’ health.
  • Health information exchanges share all of this information via secure encrypted portals, allowing all those involved in the patient’s care as well as the patients themselves to access the information whenever and wherever necessary.

Electronic medical records are quickly becoming the status quo. Are you ready for what’s next?