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Understanding the Medical Records R[e]Volution

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It’s Not All about Electronic Records

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko; MBA, CMP™

[Editor-in-Chief]

Introduction

To understand the medical records revolution that has occurred this decade, put your self for a moment in the position of a third-party payer; ie; a private insurance company, Medicare or Medicaid etc.

For example, you want to know if Dr. Joel Brown MD actually gave the care for which he is submitting a [super] bill or invoice. You want to know if that care was needed. You want to know that the care was given to benefit the patient, rather than to provide financial benefit to the provider beyond the value of the services rendered.

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Of Doubts and Uncertainty

Can you send one of your employees to follow Dr. Brown around on his or her office hours and hospital visits?  Of course not! You cannot see what actually happened in Dr. Brown’s office that day or why Dr. Black ordered a PET scan on the patient at the imaging center. What you can do however, is review the medical record that underlies the bill for services rendered from Dr. Blue. Most of all, you can require the doctor to certify that the care was actually rendered and was indicated. You can punish Dr. White severely if an element of a referral of a patient to another health care provider was to obtain a benefit in cash or in kind from the health care provider to whom the referral had been made. You can destroy Dr. Rose financially and put him in jail if his medical records do not document the bases for the bills he submitted for payment.

The Payment Paradigm Shift

This nearly complete change in function of the medical record has precious little to do with the quality of patient care. To illustrate this medical records evolution/revolution point, consider only an office visit in which the care was exactly correct, properly indicated and flawlessly delivered, but not recorded in the office chart. As far as the patient was concerned, everything was correct and beneficial to the patient. As far as the third-party payer is concerned, the bill for those services is completely unsupported by required documentation and could be the basis for a False Claims Act [FCA] charge, a Medicare audit, or a criminal indictment.  We have left the realm of quality of patient care far behind.

mobile EHR health

Provider Attitude Adjustments Required

Instead, medical practitioners must adjust their attitudes to the present function of patient records.  They must document as required under pain of punishment for failure to do so. That reality is infuriating to many since they still cling to the ideal of providing good quality care to their patients and disdain such requirements as hindrances to reaching that goal. They are also aware of the fact that full documentation can be provided without a reality underlying it. “Fine, you want documentation?  I’ll give you documentation!”

Computer Charting and eMRs

Some doctors have given in to the temptation of “cookbook” entries in their charts, canned computer software programs or eMRs listing all the examinations they should have done, all the findings which should be there to justify further treatment.  Many have personally seen, for example, hospital chart notes which describe extensive discussion with the patient of risks, alternatives and benefits in obtaining informed consent when the remainder of the record demonstrates the patient’s complaint that the surgeon has never told her what he planned to do; operative reports of procedures done and findings made in detail which, unfortunately, bear no correlation with the surgery which was actually performed.

Assessment

Whether electronic medical records (eMRs) will be helpful regarding fraud prevention, in the future is still not known. But, it is at best naive and more frequently closer to a death wish to think that a practitioner can beat the system, with handwritten notes, computer generated records, or fabricated eMR documentation.

Conclusion

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