How important is technology at your practice? On a scale of 1 to 10, internist Sangeetha Murthy says she would rate it a 9.5. The San Diego-based solo physician employs only one staff member who mans the front-desk at her practice for three hours each day. But where manpower is lacking, Murthy uses technology to fill in the blanks. "A lot of the things I use I have found by identifying a need and going and looking for something that meets that need," she says. Her searches have led her to technology large and small — from an EHR to an assortment of mobile apps.
Murthy, though, is an outlier, judging from the results of our 2012 Technology Survey, Sponsored by AT&T. EHR implementation hovers around 50 percent, and other technology — ranging from patient portals to tablets — is slow on the uptick as well. It's an understandable trend. As more and more healthcare-related tech tools emerge, so does confusion about what practices need to acquire and what they can easily go without.
To help provide some guidance, we compiled a list of five of the biggest tech trends occurring in healthcare right now, and we asked healthcare technology experts and physicians to weigh in with their thoughts and their recommendations.
* Curious about the numbers? Look at the data from our 2012 Technology Survey.
The not-so-voluntary trend
As you might have guessed, Murthy is an avid user of an EHR. She implemented the technology at her practice in 2008 (and switched to a different system in 2010) and she says, "I could not see myself practicing without it." Improved efficiency and ease of access to patient medical records are two of the key perks, she says.
But dermatologist Steven Shapiro, whose six-physician multilocation group practice implemented its EHR in September 2011, is not yet a happy customer. He says he suspects EHR satisfaction will not occur until "upwards of two years" after implementation. "There's a lot of frustration, a lot of loss of income, a lot of patient dissatisfaction," says Shapiro, noting that the system has decreased efficiency overall, and as a result, lead to increased patient wait times, longer patient visits, and fewer total patient visits per day.
Still, Shapiro, of Hattiesburg, Miss., says it was the right decision to implement the EHR. "We felt that — based on trends and where we thought medicine was going — we had this window of time and that implementation earlier rather than later would be the best way to go," he says.
The window he's referring to is the period of time practices have to receive federal incentives for meaningfully using an EHR (the Medicare incentive program ends in 2016), and the dwindling amount of time practices have to implement an EHR before 2015, when they will begin experiencing Medicare payment reductions for not doing so.
If financial incentives and lower reimbursements on the federal level are not enough to convince you that it's time to acquire an EHR, there are other factors to consider. Commercial payers will likely begin providing differential reimbursement to practices based on whether they have implemented one, says former practicing family physician Paul Kleeberg, clinical director of the Minnesota and North Dakota Regional Extension Center for Health Information Technology, which assists physicians and practices transition to EHRs.
In addition, as reimbursement shifts from volume of services to value of services, practices will need to prove that they are providing high quality care to patients, says Kleeberg, who is based in Bloomington, Minn. "It will be a lot easier to demonstrate and show quality when you have an EHR and can produce the numbers, than when all of your numbers are locked in a chart room in individual charts," he says.
The time-saving trend
Though Shapiro is struggling to embrace his EHR, his patient portal is a different story. "It's easily implemented, the patients very much appreciate it, and I think it gives us a better relationship with our patients," he says.