Physician practices that implement new electronic health records/practice management system should use them to target a short list of efficiency goals and clinical outcomes to gain the biggest initial impact from their investment, an expert in implementing these systems advises.

Practices often err by developing a long list of goals they want new information systems to support, but it’s often best to pare the list down and initially focus on a few select efficiency and clinical outcomes that an organization wants to accomplish—the rest can wait.

It’s often hard to resist creating a laundry list of objectives, because the data in EHR/PPM systems are able to support a wide range of metrics that practices may be interested in managing, says Mike Cuesta, co-founder and vice president of growth marketing CareCloud, which provides applications for ambulatory care settings.

Mike Cuesta
Mike Cuesta

For instance, to better understand the efficiency of treatment, metrics could include patient check-in times at the counter, when a patient entered the exam room and when the patient left the room, how long the actual encounter was, how long charting took, and patient check-out time at the counter, he says.

Practices that gain a better understanding of timing issues have a better chance of analyzing unforeseen changes, such as patient visits that turn out to be longer than expected. Certain visits may be longer simply because of the type of patients being seen, particularly those with multiple chronic conditions. Lab tests may be ordered with the patient waiting for results, or the lab ordering workflow could be poor and require changes.

Prioritizing revenue cycle management is a significant goal for most practices, and metrics are available to determine if billing takes a hit during the changeover or adoption of technology, especially if the practice had been paper-based before the switch.

Over time, Cuesta says, practices should be seeing improved billing times and larger billings because of efficiencies and more billing data being collected. As the practice becomes more comfortable with basic functions of the EHR/PPM, it can start to create reports to identify and call the most at-risk patients in for more visits, improving their prospects for good outcomes and boosting revenue.

Too often, practices wait too long to stock of their efficiency, and may make these analyses every six months or so, Cuesta says. Checking metrics daily is optimal to prevent unnoticeable problems from festering until the issues become obvious.

If a practice is considering buying an information system, the office manager and chief financial officer must work together on the hard costs and day-to-day considerations of particular systems. That seems obvious, but office managers and CFOs don’t always work closely, Cuesta says. The office manager may be conducting due diligence on one system, while the CFO goes in another direction and is looking at a different system. Even worse, some managers aren’t even consulting the CFO or finance professional when choosing an information system.

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