The health care industry is rapidly changing, and along with changes in the practice of medicine are changes in the business of medicine. Medical offices that at one point in time, set aside large rooms for the storage of current and past medical records are now slowly converting to electronic health records.
Recently, the United States government passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) bill. This bill has financial incentives in place for medical practices who switch from the old method of paper medical health records to the new electronic method, as long as the system or software is certified and practice can demonstrate meaningful use of the system. Meaningful use includes electronic prescriptions, as well as electronic billing, among other uses.
Pros and Cons of Electronic Health Records
As with any dramatic change in modes of operation, the conversion from paper records to electronic records brings with it pros and cons. Weighing the risk versus benefit of both sides will show that, although there may be a few reasons that validate some level of apprehension in converting, they are short lived and the pros offer many positives for the future of health care and the success of medical practices in a changing environment.
Converting an office to electronic medical records will present some initial growing pains.
•Staff Education – Not only will physicians and other medical practitioners have to adjust the way they have approached patient care. All office staff will have to adjust from the way documentation in records is made to patient billing. This will include initial education and practice on the electronic health records system or software put in place.
•Conversion – Old paper records do not just disappear. Most paper charts will need to be scanned into electronic form and placed in the new patient records. Older paper charts that are not scanned to electronic form will still need to be stored for a period of time.
•Cost – Perhaps one of the biggest deterrents for making the switch to electronic health records is the cost. The initial money for the system, the training and the hardware needed can be significant. This will also include the cost of an offsite backup storage system to protect the integrity of the electronic health records in the case of a disaster.
While the cons may seem to be significant, they are short lived and off set over a period of time and as the new systems gain more use.
•Financial Incentives – Eligible medical professionals who qualify under Medicare and take advantage of implementing a certified electronic health records system by demonstrating meaningful use of the system can receive up to $45,000 in incentives. Eligible professionals who qualify under Medicaid can receive up to $63,000 in incentives. There is also an additional financial bonus for practices in rural and underserved areas.
•Billing – While methods of billing will initially change, electronic health records will present a more uniform method of billing and submitting to insurance companies. This will reduce billing errors, coding errors, and rejected claims while increasing revenue.
•Task Management – Electronic health records will streamline the office procedures necessary to keep up with changes in patient records. Prescriptions will be sent electronically reducing wait times. Multiple office staff will be able to work in the same chart simultaneously reducing staff hours, and orders for imaging and laboratory tests, as well as the results will be in electronic form and can be sent directly to the patient’s electronic health records without staff intervention or delay.
•Coding – Changes are coming in billing and coding as the United States switches from ICD-9 to ICD-10. While the change in billing may present some “bumps” in the road, an electronic health records system can facilitate the change more smoothly.
•Availability – One of the most significant pros for the new electronic health records is that patients will eventually have access to their medical records online through secured connections. This will make it easier to get information when needed, switching between providers and when records are needed in emergency situations.
When looking at the change from old cumbersome paper health records to the new electronic health records systems, there are pros and cons. There are many different systems and choices available for every level of health care, as well as the support necessary to make the conversion as seamless as possible.