Article Date: 4/1/2009

Streamline Your Practice With EMR
Tech Connection

Streamline Your Practice With EMR

Here's how electronic medical records can facilitate patient file access, boost practice efficiency and improve patient care.

By Laurie Sorrenson, OD, FAAO
Austin, Texas

IF YOUR PRACTICE hasn't implemented electronic medical records (EMR), you're not alone. But you're missing out on a valuable tool that could help your practice run more efficiently, while improving patient care. When you choose the right software, file management becomes faster, more reliable and easier to learn.

In this article, I'll discuss how this technology can benefit your practice and share tips to ensure a smooth transition.

Glean the Benefits

Implementing an EMR system has several advantages, including:

Saving time. When I asked staff members at my former practice to estimate how much time they spent retrieving and filing paper records, responses ranged from 40 to 100 hours a week. In contrast, you can access an electronic patient file in seconds with the click of a mouse. EMRs also will reduce repetitive copying of patient information, lowering the risk of documentation errors. For example, with EMR, after you write a prescription in a chart, the computer processes it for printing and transfers it onto an order page that's sent directly to a laboratory.

Monitoring patients. EMRs enable you to keep track of a patient's IOPs, refractions and other details over time on a single screen. This would be a cumbersome task with traditional paper records. Key historical data can help you identify significant trends over time, which will help guide future diagnosis and treatment decisions.

Conserving space. An electronic system frees up valuable office space that was once occupied by paper records. For example, if your monthly income is $30,000 and you have 1,500 square feet of office space, your productivity is $20 per square foot. If the room where you store patient health records is 10′ × 10′, you're wasting $2,000 worth of space. Recovered storage space can be converted into an additional exam room for patients.

Easing the Transition

Switching from paper records to EMRs isn't difficult if you choose your software system carefully.

Ask questions. Your system should be reliable and easy to learn. When shopping for systems — which range from $5,000 to $50,000 — ask vendors which system will best fit your needs and how long will it take you and your staff to learn the software. Navigating through a software program should be intuitive. An average staff person should be able to learn how to use it in 1 day.

Start scanning. Since most software is easy to use, you can make the transition from paper to electronic records fairly quickly. Employees can scan paper records into an electronic patient file as each person visits your office, or you can hire someone to scan all of the records at once. If you've just opened a new practice, it makes sense to begin using EMRs right away, so you won't have to scan paper records into the system later.

Have a back up. Ask your vendor to recommend options for backing up files. We back up files each evening to a designated computer and to a secure, online storage site.

EMR Can Work for You

If you work for or plan to join an existing practice, acquiring EMR expertise will make you a more valuable asset. If you're opening a new practice, the software will help you track your success. In either case, EMR will streamline your practice. Your patients will receive better care, and your practice will grow. nOD

Dr. Sorrenson works in a group practice in Austin, Texas, and is the fourth-year Practice Management Course master at the University of Houston College of Optometry. She lectures frequently on practice management issues. You can reach her at sorrenson@att.net.


Optometric Management, Issue: April 2009