As new technology such as electronic medical records (EMRs) and electronic health records (EHRs) start to become more ubiquitous in hospitals and doctor's offices across the country, you may be considering going paperless in your own practice. If you haven't started the process of moving to EHRs yet, you may find yourself in violation of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which was enacted in 2009 to stimulate the adoption of EHRs.
Beginning in 2011, the HITECH Act offered financial incentives to health care providers for demonstrating "meaningful use" of EHRs. However, providers who fail to demonstrate meaningful use get penalties levied against them. The deadline for eligible professionals (EPs) to begin their three-month reporting period for the first year of Stage 1 of HITECH'S implementation and avoid Medicare penalties in 2017 is October 1, 2015. The reporting year for EPs ends December 31, 2015, and the last day for EPs to apply to receive an incentive payment for the 2015 calendar year is February 29, 2016.
According to a 2014 report to Congress from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 48 percent of physicians and 59 percent of hospitals had at least a basic EHR system in place; before the HITECH Act was enacted in 2009, those figures were only 22 percent of physicians and 12 percent of hospitals.
Happier, Healthier Patients
Besides complying with the HITECH Act, going paperless in your practice can improve patient outcomes. A 2009 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine (formerly Archives of Internal Medicine) found that, when paper forms were replaced by health information technologies, both hospitals and patients benefited greatly. According to the study, hospitals whose technologies ranked in the top third saw a 15 percent decrease in the odds that a patient would die while hospitalized. Patients at these hospitals had a 9 percent decrease in the odds of death from heart attacks and a 55 percent decrease in the odds of death from a coronary artery bypass. Patient costs were also significantly lower in hospitals with the highest technology scores.
No More Paper
One way to go paperless in your practice is to replace intake forms with a self-check-in kiosk at the reception area. These kiosks allow patients to check themselves in, learn if they have a co-pay for their visit, and pay with their credit card. This technology also makes the check-in process faster, taking less than two minutes.
Tablets are another way to eliminate paper from your practice, and there are several benefits to using them. One is that more health care application providers are developing mobile apps that can help staff gain access to EMRs on the go. There are also different models available at different price points, and some manufacturers may offer discounts for multiple units. Tablets also allow physicians to take notes quickly and clearly without having to worry about legibility, and they can replace the handheld scanners used to scan patient medications.
Instead of printing out a prescription for patients to bring to their pharmacy, you may want to consider e-prescribing. This allows you to send a prescription directly to the patient's pharmacy electronically. E-prescribing helps improve patient safety and care and reduces the amount of time spent on the phone with pharmacies. It also automates the prescription-renewal process. An electronic fax machine can also help you go paperless. These machines allow you to fax patient records, prescription requests, and other information from an Internet-connected device. They also let you receive this information as an email.
While implementing EHRs and other technologies into your practice may be expensive at first, it can save you money in the long run. You'll reduce the amount of money you spend on paper supplies, ink, and toner. You'll also be able to free up office space that would have been dedicated to file cabinets, printers, and traditional fax machines. Numerous businesses and industries are increasingly turning to paperless practices, and there's no reason the medical world can't catch up -- especially when it will benefit patients around the world.