Article Date: 1/1/2012

Get the Most From Your Records
EHR focus

Get the Most From Your Records

Learn the “language” of EHR to open up new possibilities in your practice.

Karen Perry, O.D., F.A.A.O.

Changing from paper to electronic health records (EHR) can be a lot like learning a new language. At times, it can be frustrating and in the beginning, it will not feel natural or efficient. However, by dedicating time to learning this new skill, EHR can open new possibilities and methods of communication, just as another language does. Below are some of the ways in which we maximized the return on our investment by learning this new “language.”

Patient registration

From a patient's first interaction with our office, we gain a multitude of efficiencies with our software (Eyecare Advantage EHR and Practice Management software, Compulink). When patients participate in web registration, a significant amount of staff work, in terms of inputting patient demographic data and history, is eliminated. In addition, we have much better communication with the individual insurance companies. This is because we know immediately what the insurance company will pay and any copayments required from the patient. This helps us communicate fees early and accurately to patients.

Staff efficiencies

The EHR system helps guide staff workflow, which drives efficiencies. For example, when interviewing patients, staff members have the documentation standards in front of them, and it guides them as to what questions to ask. The result: Staff confidence increases, and the quality of information gathered improves.

With EHR, the doctor has quick access to patient information, especially through e-prescribing. At times, patients are reluctant to report certain medications, such as prostate or antipsychotic drugs. However, with the Surescripts e-prescribing program, we have access to real data about all patient medications, so we can better arrive at a diagnosis and develop an effective treatment plan.


Some of our greatest gains have come through automated billing. First, there is a mechanism built into the software that increases our electronic posting and remittance. As a result, we no longer miss billing codes to insurance companies because we forgot to note a certain diagnostic test that was ordered.

In addition, the time it takes for us to process a claim, get the money in our bank and post the payment to the patient's ledger is reduced tremendously. Not only is there a major reduction in staff hours required to manage this process, but with electronic transfers, the money reaches our account much faster than with a paper system, meaning we start earning interest sooner. In a large practice, that amount can be significant.

Business management

Healthcare providers not only focus on delivering care, but also running a business that needs to be profitable. EHR places all of the business-related data of an office at your fingertips, allowing for more efficient management of a practice. This plays out in various ways.

First, the actual amount spent on cost of goods and opportunities to reduce spending are easily assessed. In our office, we tracked that the cost of printing has gone down 70% since we instigated our EHR system. (See figure 1.)

Figure 1 shows the reduction in costs, in dollars, of printing exam forms, file jackets, labels, appointment sheets, prescription pads, ledger sheets and superbills. (Costs for 2011 include expenses through Nov. 26.)

In addition, we are much better at marketing. For example, within minutes, we can identify the names and contact information of every patient who uses contact lenses, and send specific marketing materials just to them. We can also easily track patients who have diabetes or macular degeneration and remind them when they need to come in for follow-up appointments. We are able to participate in studies and receive grants because we can access patients of a specific profile easily through database queries.

The ways in which we can organize and understand how our practice works, where our revenue comes from and ways we can increase it are almost limitless. None of this would be possible if staff had to rifle through paper charts to glean the information.

Patient care

Above and beyond the numbers, there are the opportunities to improve patient care. For example, overall, EHR makes a huge stride in the prevention of medical errors. Programmed screens prompt physicians to complete certain diagnostic tests or ask certain questions. You cannot move forward in the exam until the necessary data has been acquired. With e-prescribing, there is no longer a chance that the pharmacist won't be able to understand a handwritten prescription — a time saver for the patient and practice, which also increases safety.

The ability to follow up on chronic care situations and to easily share information with comanaging physicians makes important improvements in the quality of care we are providing our patients.

While the initial steps in learning to use your EHR system may be a bit awkward, dedicating some time to learning how to effectively use it is one of the best investments you can make in your practice. The financial efficiencies and improvements in patient care are well worth the effort. OM


Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: January 2012, page(s): 57 - 58