By Christine Tremblay
The time to begin preparing your practice for stage 2 meaningful use has arrived. Many physicians, however, are hesitant to begin the process with not-too-distant memories of stage 1 attestation which, for some, negatively impacted practice productivity. Although meaningful use may conjure images of long hours and mountains of paperwork, attesting to stage 2 has some distinct benefits beyond financial incentives that physicians shouldn’t overlook.
There are several reasons why leveraging your EHR to optimize your practice makes sense outside of qualifying for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) dollars. If practices use their EHR correctly, they can reduce costs by avoiding the duplication of tests and other services due to human error and improve interactions with patients.
• Patient portals: Stage 2 meaningful use requires physicians to use their EHR in ways that will improve patient care. For example, EHR integration with an online patient portal bridges communication gaps between providers and patients. Portals provide patients with the information they need at their fingertips. They also streamline communication by enabling physicians to respond to inquiries at their convenience.
Patient portals also make it easier for patients to be more engaged in their health care. They can log on at any time to request appointments or refills, review lab results, pay their bills, or even ask questions that can be answered by a nurse or doctor. Portals also reduce the likelihood of human error and miscommunication, particularly since patients can review summaries of the care they have received and confirm the accuracy of their information.
• Increasing efficiency: Physicians can cut costs and improve office efficiency if they take advantage of administrative patient portal capabilities such as appointment requests, reminders, and test result distribution. With these tasks being done electronically, physicians and office staff can spend less time on the phone with patients and allocate resources elsewhere.
EHRs also can help decrease the time it takes to submit and request lab results by sending and receiving orders, reports, and medical images in real time via a virtual connection. This can reduce the number of days that it may take for these items to be hand-delivered back and forth between the office and the lab, which is particularly crucial for patients awaiting important test results.
• Data collection: Although the amount and quality of information that the new mandates require physicians to collect may create some extra work, the data actually will help track treatment plans and inform physicians of changes in their patients’ health. This information can provide physicians with tools to understand and determine how to best treat their patients, which ultimately will result in better outcomes. With the increasing industry trend toward reimbursement based on improved patient health and other quality measures, EHRs that easily can track and report patient outcomes also will support the financial health of the physician’s practice.
Best EHR for Your Practice
Although there are many advantages to meeting stage 2 meaningful use standards, there still are some physicians who may say the risk of reduced productivity outweighs the benefits of implementing an EHR, so let’s talk about solutions.
Physicians can mitigate some of these risks by making sure they use an intuitive, easy-to-use EHR system. They should aim to find a tool that operates in a way that compliments how they practice medicine, eliminating precious hours spent trying to figure out how to work a complicated system. They also should take into account whether the EHR has a program to make attestation easier and the quality of customer service if any questions or other issues arise.
Once physicians have found a system that best fits their practice, it is a matter of committing to practice transformation. Every staff member should be involved in the effort to streamline EHR implementation, and physicians should leverage every opportunity to collect and maintain better information about their patients. Physicians should put checks and balances in place to make sure none of the required information is overlooked before, during, and after a patient’s visit. This way, documentation won’t be overwhelming.
Many independent physicians are switching to patient-centered medical homes, which are defined by the National Committee on Quality Assurance as a model of care that emphasizes care coordination and communication to transform primary care into what patients want it to be. Broad adoption of the patient portal can put much of the documentation burden on the patient: Physicians can ask them to log in and update their demographic and medical history online before the visit; make visit summaries, test results, and patient-specific education available for download immediately following the visit; and send friendly reminders about follow-up treatment plans between visits and allow patients to ask the physician or staff questions via secure portal messages.
Since stage 2 meaningful use will require physicians to collect and enter additional data electronically, workflow adjustments will be necessary. Tools such as the patient portal can help improve the ongoing relationship with patients while assisting physicians in achieving meaningful use criteria. If physicians commit to reorganizing and sticking to these new workflow processes, the practice will more easily adapt to these new requirements, making additional data collection second nature.
Although there certainly are ways to streamline stage 2 meaningful use attestation, there is no denying that it still is a complicated process, as demonstrated by the CMS’ decision to extend the deadline to October 1, 2014, and provide practices adequate time to complete the process.
While the additional time offers the opportunity to phase in work that needs to be done, it does not mean that physicians should delay in planning. Practices should begin reviewing the changes needed to fulfill the new requirements one step at a time with the goal of making continued progress. This way, physicians will be in the best position possible to meet these requirements once the deadline arrives.
— Christine Tremblay is director of product strategy for Amazing Charts.