Small Medical Practices Should Not Be Left Behind as EHRs Become Interoperable

One frequent complaint patients frequently have is that when they move, or simply switch from one healthcare provider to another, their new doctor does not have easy access to their full medical history. This means patients must take diagnostic tests that they have already taken, answer questions they have already answered, and describe their own conditions as best they can.

For doctors with a new patient to treat, it means charting a course of treatment without the complete picture of the patient’s health. For a physician, it’s like coming in at the middle of a story instead of the beginning.

We are living in a time now where almost all patient records have been digitized, which makes them easy to search and navigate. But unfortunately, we are not yet in a time where all of the various electronic health records work together well. Because of different software systems used by different medical practices, hospital chains and clinics, even digitized records can be difficult to share.

The larger health systems are working on this problem, and gradually making electronic medical records more interoperable and centralized. This way, doctors in managed care settings will be able to start their treatment course with a much more complete view of their patients’ medical histories. Moving toward interoperability means constantly upgrading technology systems, an endeavor that is both expensive and time-consuming.

But independent physician practices have neither the budget nor the staff to constantly upgrade their technology. So, while the larger health systems are able to make steady progress, independent doctors may be left behind.

Independent medical practices are already beset by costs that larger systems can more easily absorb, including maintaining certifications, staying in compliance with HIPAA laws, collecting co-pays and deductibles and implementing the ICD-10.

A study that came out last month said that electronic health record adoption, including addressing interoperability issues, will reduce practice revenue and reduce the number of patient encounters for smaller medical practices. And these practices are already feeling financial pressure.

Experts quoted in the study all agreed that EHR implementation would shift the focus away from treating patients, and even cause providers to overlook medical conditions. Taking the focus away from patients to concentrate on EHR documentation and implementation could negatively impact the patient-provider relationship, the experts said.

The study recommends that independent practices bring in date-entry personnel, so doctors can spend more time on patient care.

While bringing in more staff will certainly help alleviate the problem, independent medical

practices also need practice-management systems that can keep up with not just EHR documentation, but a range of other I.T. issues that are draining the budgets of small practices today.

This means a back-end system comprised of open Application program interfacse (APIs), and a system that can easily communicate with and share information with other providers, government agencies and the patients themselves.

A more evolved practice-management system will save time and cost for small practices not just as they implement EHRs, but confront the myriad other technological issues that independent practices struggle to keep up with.