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How EMR Vendors Mis-Lead Doctors [Part 2 of 2]

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Practical “Tips and Pearls” from the Trenches

[Part Two]

By Shahid Shah MS http://www.healthcareguy.com

Shahid N. ShahAs your practice’s CIO it’s your job to challenge the vendors’ assertions about why you need an EMR, especially during the selection and production demonstration phase.

The most important reason for the digitization of medical records is to make patient information available when the physician needs that information to either care for the patient or supply information to another caregiver.

Electronic medical records are not about the technology but about whether or not information is more readily available at the point of need. In no particular order, the major reasons given for the business case of EMRs by vendors include:

  • Increase in staff productivity
  • Increase of practice revenue and profit
  • Reduce costs outright or control cost increases
  • Improve clinical decision making
  • Enhance documentation
  • Improve patient care
  • Reduce medical errors

Let’s tackle each potential benefit and see how they can be realized or left unfulfilled based on how a practice uses the technology solutions available to it. While thinking of the benefits, keep in mind that all automation solutions have voracious appetites for data entry and information. If you do not enter the data (either manually, through scanners, or integration with external systems) the value of the solutions cannot be realized. That’s why it’s crucial to consider how much time and effort you’d like to invest in data entry and if you’re not willing or able to take the time to enter the data into the system then the system is not going to work for you.

Increase in staff productivity

The first benefit often cited by vendors is improvement of your staff’s productivity. In a well-designed and properly implemented solution, an EMR can reduce the amount of time it takes for staff to locate records and find particular information about patients as well as generally conduct their tasks in a more efficient manner. However, actually achieving productivity improvement is much more difficult than vendors often make it sound. This is because the actual improvement in productivity is directly related to the amount of detailed data that is collected for patients across the entire practice workflow. Unless your practice has identified all or at least most major workflow steps and has created appropriate automation steps is unlikely that your productivity improvement will match what the vendor promises.

Ask your vendors specifically where the staff productivity improvements come from; in a demonstration have the sales person show you how specific functions of their software can improve staff effectiveness at particular tasks. Instead of citing just studies performed in large institutions, have the vendor show you how their benefits apply to your smaller setting. Ask specifically what happens if certain data is not entered in the way the vendor requires it; does it break the software, reduce the staff productivity benefits, or something else?

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Increase of practice revenue and profit

Most physician practices make money by seeing patients and charging fees for services; but when a vendor promises an improvement in revenue or an increase in profit, you must be very reluctant to believe the claims without specific evidence. An increase in revenue can only come when the number of patients seen per day per physician can be increased. An increase in profit can only be achieved if the costs associated with seeing patients can be reduced. Unless an EMR actually reduces the number of steps involved in seeing a patient and reducing the time associated with the non-clinical aspects of patient care there is no way that the introduction of the technology itself will increase revenue. Likewise, unless an EMR is designed to significantly remove staff burden and reduce the number of people in your office that you need to perform tasks associated with patient care, realizing an increase in profits will be tough.

During the software demonstration, ask the vendor about how the revenues increases come because of specific features. Dubious responses like studies performed in academic medical institutions or a reference to another client shouldn’t be enough – they should be able to demonstrate methodically how revenues will go up in your practice.

Reduce costs outright or control cost increases

In some fairly sophisticated implementations the reduction of costs has been proven to be possible; however outright cost reduction is still tough to gain. Controlling cost increases, however, is quite possible and is usually easier to attain because as your staff becomes familiar with their technology solutions they become more efficient over time and they are able to do more work with the same resources and staff therefore you may be able to increase the number of patients that you can see over time without increasing costs. Again, while immediate cost reductions are tough in a medical practice given that a large portion of your costs are associated with personnel, long-term cost reduction through either attrition or not having to hire new staff while still being able to increase their workload allows you to control costs better.

During the software demonstration, make sure you see how specific software features will reduce costs. You will get plenty of softballs being thrown your way about how other customers saw their costs go down or studies showing that large companies have seen the benefits. Your job as the CIO will be to force the vendor to tie cost savings specifically to use of their software, not computers in general.

Improve clinical decision making

Improving clinical decision-making is often a dubious endeavor and should not typically be the first reason you choose to implement an EMR; this is because clinical decision-making is and will remain a knowledge –based activity requiring significant training and teaching of computers before they can actually begin to improve clinical decisions. Physicians are some of the worlds’ best trained knowledge workers and they honed their clinical decision-making skills over a long period of time in very specialized training regimens that cannot easily at this time be duplicated by computers. When a vendor promises that an implementation of any EMR will improve decision-making from a clinical standpoint remain very skeptical.

Enhance documentation

Many vendors claim that their EMR’s will help improve and enhance clinical documentation. While this is very true for lead-based EMR is they are often creating much more documentation as far as quantity is concerned while likely reducing the actual quality of the information contained in the documentation. When implementing a template-based solution keep in mind that what a physician could normally easily write down in a couple of sentences will turn into many paragraphs in many pages of boilerplate text and boilerplate documentation that must then be stored red and understood by colleagues. So the promise of enhanced documentation is actually usually easy to achieve because you will get more pages of documents that are automatically generated but those pages that are generated may not necessarily be the most favorable from a clinical usefulness perspective.

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Improve patient care

Many vendors proclaim that the installation of an EMR sometimes by itself will improve patient care; if by improvement of patient care they mean actually moving patients through the different steps associated with patient care in your office in a faster and more customer friendly manner then there is some truth to that. However if by improvement of patient care the promise is to actually make people’s healthcare better or truly improve a patient’s health itself then those claims must also be seen with a skeptical eye. This is similar to the clinical decision making enhancement promises that are often made; just like clinical decisions, patient care is a very human activity and simply introducing a better record keeping system will not improve people’s health. We are an improvement in health can occur however is in the tracking of clinical goals and helping patients meet those goals by reminding patients for regular tasks.

Reduce medical errors

Reduction of medical errors is a laudable goal; and in fact many EMR’s and the use of computerized physician order entry systems can help reduce medical errors by ensuring that common clerical types of errors do not occur. When looking at medical and clinical errors those errors that can easily fit well established and known rules can be automated in a somewhat friendly and easy manner and by using such automated tools error reduction is possible.


However, when rules become difficult to define or are not widely agreed-upon then errors associated with such rules would not be caught.

PART ONE: How to Demo and Buy an EMR Office System [Part 1 of 2]


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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com


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3 Responses

  1. EHR Headlines

    “NYU Langone Medical Center Notified Patients of Stolen Unencrypted Laptop Containing Patient Information,” August 16, 2014.


    “Woman charged with fraud for allegedly releasing personal patient information – Employee accused of giving out records that contained personal patient information [for $100 per file],” August 6, 2014.


    “Former Tufts Health Plan employee pleads guilty to data theft – A former employee of Tufts Health Plan pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to stealing personal information from thousands of patients in a scheme to collect fraudulent Social Security benefits and tax refunds, authorities said,” August 14, 2014


    “Hollywood [Florida] Medical Assistant Pleads Guilty To Identity Theft.” The assistant sold approximately 2,000 patient identities for $1 each to an individual who told her that he used the identities to file fraudulent tax returns. August 14, 2014


    “Hackers get thousands of government workers’ info from Healthways subcontractor – Personal information on more than 60,000 government employees who participated in Tennessee’s employee health screenings may be at risk for identity theft, according to state officials, August 13, 2014.


    “EHRs provide long-term savings, convenience,” No byline, ADA News, December 6, 2013.


    Darrell Pruitt DDS


  2. Data Hostage

    The courts have all ruled in favor of the software companies. Their only obligation is to “give” you your data, usually as a raw data dump which meets their legal requirements but is useless to you.

    Be aware – Be informed!

    Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA


  3. Choose your EHR vendor carefully!

    Last night, Dental Symphony responded to my concerns about the EHR system’s cost and safety by anonymously censoring this dentist’s questions.


    Is Dental Symphony a company you want to do business with, Doc?

    DK Pruitt DDS


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