Thumbing through papers on a clipboard, carrying personal files from one office to the next, and overstocking file cabinets are scenes that Jason Berry, chief operating officer at Phoenix Digital Imaging, says are becoming outdated. This service bureau helps healthcare providers adapt to electronic medical records (EMRs), and these computerized patient data systems have been a hot topic since the federal government announced a $27 billion incentive program — part of the 2009 stimulus — for companies that file their information on a certified EMR system. Beginning this year, the government is reimbursing clinicians with payments to insurance programs Medicare and Medicaid (as much as $44,000 through Medicare and nearly $64,000 through Medicaid per clinician). If a company doesn’t have a system in place by 2015, it will lose a percentage of Medicare reimbursements.
For medical professionals with a full workload, time matters, and a switch from paper records to electronic versions has some worried about a disruption in the typical workflow, Berry says. Last July, optometrist Dr. Kim Haywood-Pfender discovered switching her patients’ paper medical records to electronic versions was time-consuming for everyone at her Downtown practice, Evansville Eyecare Associates. The switch required Haywood-Pfender to close her office two separate weeks for EMR experts to train doctors and staff. She admits this was the biggest burden of all: two weeks without income. But the promise of better patient care — fewer missing charts, home access, and better efficiency and accuracy in prescribing drugs — made EMRs worth the work, Haywood-Pfender says.
A common patient concern with EMRs is privacy, but Berry says federal laws are in place requiring a top-notch EMR security system and policing and tracking users. So is an iPad for every doctor in the forecast for EMRs? “Either thumbing through pages or thumbing on a touch screen,” Berry says, “every patient entry is going to be on some version of a computer system.”
To learn more about government incentives for healthcare providers switching to electronic medical records, visit www.cms.gov/ehrincentiveprograms.