Investing in EMRs — Worth the Cost?
In every industry leaders are constantly seeking technology and tools that will help them keep records, manage customer relationships, and structure their data control processes. In some ways the medical industry is different from others; yet in other ways, it isn’t. Health systems and private practices have turned to technology to help them manage patient relationships, cut costs and drive operational excellence.
While there’s no denying that EMR platforms have gained popularity in the past five years, in that same amount of time, small practices and primary care physicians have begun to ask whether or not the savings and benefits of EMR implementation justify the initial cost. Since the technology in question is constantly growing and evolving, it’s hard to give a definitive answer. Cost-benefit studies have shown promising returns on investment as well as defined cost-cutting advantages for practices willing to take the EMR leap.
The Benefits of Health IT
Healthcare reforms such as the Affordable Care Act and Meaningful Use have demanded health systems and private practices focus on cutting costs while improving quality of care delivered. This has been the impetus for the growth in the health IT sector.
Implementation of technological solutions has been pivotal in improving clinical productivity, enhancing patient satisfaction, cutting costs and augmenting compliance efforts. But at what price have these improvements come?
Measuring the return on investment of EMR implementation is hard to quantify, especially when you consider the long-term measurement requirements and fairly intangible criteria in patient care. While mandated compliance can somewhat be measured, as through Meaningful Use, how does one put a price tag on patient satisfaction, exactly?
Before physicians can come to any sort of EMR cost conclusion, they’ve got to keep some basic facts in mind:
1. EMR is far more than a computer database, it is a total business management solution.
2. While it may still be a choice right now, eventually EMR will become a requirement at the state and federal levels in order for providers to participate in data exchanges, avoid financial penalties while taking full advantage of financial incentives.
3. EMR is a capital expenditure and as such may not realize all of the benefits for a year or more after implementation.
The Real Implementation Costs of EMR
Before we can talk about any returns, we’ve got to be very clear about the actual costs of EMR implementation. Some EMR costs are visible while others are unintentionally hidden. After the initial installation costs of the system hardware, there will also be recurring software licensing fees as well as upgrades.
Practices can also expect some down time as staff gets up to speed on the new operational standards and procedures. And, of course, there will be expenses for the IT personnel (either on site or third-party) who will run backups, perform routine maintenance checks and manage patient security.
Where EMR Really Shines
While we’re discussing the topic of cost, it must be mentioned that implementation of EMR is, at the end of the day, about improving patient care. The technology’s goal is to optimize clerical procedures, improve record keeping, support data exchange and streamline clinical workflows.
Various industry studies have looked at the benefits of implementing an enterprise-wide EMR system and have found:
- A decrease in test redundancy within the practice as well as with consulting specialists and partnering medical facilities.
- Fewer billing inaccuracies.
- Improved risk management with lower malpractice insurance premiums.
- Elimination of paper storage both on and offsite.
Coordination of Care
We can hardly Discuss EMR Benefits without mentioning the coordination of patient care, particularly for those patients with chronic conditions and diseases. A 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that EMRs greatly improved the quality of patient care in a multi-provider practice that focused on management of diabetes.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of adopting an EMR system is the fact that it completely eliminates some of the silo thinking that is so rampant in the medical community. For instance, a radiologist can have access to vital signs, patient history and test results when evaluating a scan. When engaged in a follow-up visit, primary physicians can see tests and treatment plans ordered by colleagues. In this way technology acts like a bridge that connects all facets of delivered care in the most optimized way possible.
What Exactly IS the Return on Investment for EMR Implementation?
While the returns may not be immediate, physicians can rest easy knowing the benefits of implementing EMR far outweigh the initial costs thanks to improved revenues through increased consults and growing patient pools, as well as increased financial incentives and reduction in operating costs.
A 2009 study by the Medical Group Management Association puts it into even clearer perspective: Of the over 1,300 medical professionals surveyed, the average revenue increase for the independent practices after switching from a paper-based practice to an EMR was around $49,000. That number is pure revenue and does not take into account the reduction in operating costs experienced by these same professionals.
What is the moral of the story? With its ability to cut costs while increasing revenue, EMR solutions are well worth the investment and a no-brainer for practices of all sizes.