If processes are more efficient on paper, then keep them.
Lately, much is being made about doctors’ offices becoming 100 percent “paperless.” Indeed, many people, including presidential candidates, believe that computerized medical records will solve some major problems endemic in our healthcare system. But while computers are proven helps in the medical setting, simply computerizing the charts in an office does not necessarily improve quality; it may actually make it worse.
Our office has been computerized since 1996. The changeover was so successful that we’ve enjoyed national recognition for the excellent manner in which we applied this technology. Has our success been a result of becoming totally paperless? No. But that was never our goal. Instead, we focused on -- and continue to do so today -- gaining efficiency, not losing paper.
The real benefit of electronic medical records is not creating an electronic equivalent of the paper record. Rather, EMR is a tool by which the entire work flow of processes in the medical office can be re-engineered for maximum efficiency, productivity, and high-quality care. So your goal should be to change the process. Sometimes that involves paper, sometimes it does not.
So many doctors are tempted to rush when implementing an EMR. Resist this urge. Instead, take a step-wise approach that keeps efficiency in mind, not whether the solution is paper or electronic. Then, when you do fire up your new EMR, you’ll already be well-established operationally. Here are the processes I recommend starting with:
Remember, the goal is to be efficient, not paperless. If processes are more efficient on paper, then keep them. Allow the providers and staff to enjoy the benefits of EMR before requiring major changes in behavior. This results in a much higher buy-in by physicians and a willingness to take the more difficult steps in the future. Also, increasing revenue and getting people home earlier will do much to make the argument that the future is (mostly) paperless.
Robert Lamberts, MD, is a primary care physician with Evans Medical Group in Evans, Ga. He is board certified in internal medicine and pediatrics, and specializes in the care of adults, pediatrics, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, preventative medicine, attention deficit disorder, and emotional/behavior disorders. Dr. Lamberts serves on multiple committees at several national organizations for the promotion of computerized health records, for which he is a recognized national speaker. He can be reached at rlamberts@EvansMedicalGroup.com.