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Improve PatientCare

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Three ways in which electronic medical records can improve your quality of care.

By Heidi Jannenga, PT, MPT, ATC/L

As a physical therapist (PT), your number-one priority is the patient. Patients are the reason you got into this business and the reason you go to work every morning. Any sweeping change introduced in your clinic, such as implementing an electronic medical record (EMR), should benefit not only you and your staff, but also your patients. Luckily, the right EMR will do both. Here is how an EMR can improve the quality of care you provide to your patients.

  1. Access to a patient’s entire story.

    A good EMR—one that is web based—gives you the flexibility to document wherever you or your patients are. You have anywhere, anytime access to your patients’ complete therapy records. Developing an effective plan of care requires you to see the whole picture. With a well-organized EMR, you will be able to find any given chapter of your patient’s history with just a few clicks. Before you make a change to a patient’s existing treatment plan, you’ll be able to quickly and easily check to make sure those changes align with that individual patient’s needs. Plus, with the health care industry moving toward a state of complete interoperability—allowing for seamless exchange of patient information as well as coordination among providers—it will become increasingly important for therapists to use electronic records in a patient’s care and treatment plan.
  2. Improve patient compliance and commitment.

    Two challenges that most private practice PTs grapple with are patient compliance and patient buy-in. Fortunately, the right EMR system provides the tools necessary to improve both compliance and buy-in.

    Appointment Reminders

    For patients to experience the benefits of physical therapy, they have to consistently come to their appointments. Unfortunately, in our busy lives, certain things are bound to slip our minds, but we rarely forget our phones. Appointment reminders are essential for your clinic. You and your staff do not have time to call every patient to remind him or her about an upcoming appointment. Through automated appointment reminders, a tool that sends patients custom reminder messages a few days before their appointments via phone call, email, or text, can make this happen. It is a simple, yet effective EMR feature that can reduce no-shows by up to 30 percent.

    Multimedia Home Exercise Program

    Even if a patient never misses an appointment, he or she may have room for improvement with their home exercises. Home exercise reinforces the gains made during in-clinic therapy sessions, and patients who follow their home exercise plans consistently tend to achieve much better outcomes than those who limit their therapy participation to what they do during their appointments. One of the main reasons patients fail to complete their home exercises is that they do not understand the exercises or how to perform them. The right EMR addresses this issue by providing a multimedia home exercise program that is customizable to the specific needs of each patient, which can be emailed, and contains pictures, videos, and step-by-step instructions. That way, regardless of a patient’s learning style, he or she will be able to properly complete the assigned exercises.

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    Appointment reminders get patients through your doors, and a home exercise program allows them to better progress through treatment. Together these will increase a patient’s commitment to your clinic, your services, and physical therapy in general. Beyond compliance tools, an EMR increases patient buy-in through improved presentation. Imagine a clinic overrun with clutter—illegible paper charts affixed to clipboards, towering rows of file cabinets, and a haphazard front desk overrun by post-it notes and old-school agenda books. This image screams inefficiency and disorganization. If this is your reality, you’re giving patients a skeptical impression of you as a competent medical professional, which may lead them to question the quality of care they are receiving.

    Now imagine a clinic without all that mess—few file cabinets, very little paper, no post-its or clipboards. The front office team does everything digitally; perhaps the therapists are using iPads to document. A smooth-running, tech-savvy operation creates positive vibes that will stay with patients long after they walk out the door. Good impressions are everything. They build trust and keep patients coming back, making them more likely to follow through with the plan you prescribe.

  3. Ensure patient privacy.

    Protected health information (PHI) laws aren’t getting any softer. In fact, the recent HIPAA Omnibus ruling introduced even harsher penalties for PHI breaches. This makes information security a top priority for you and your practice. While most people would agree that a filing cabinet probably is not the safest place to keep such sensitive data, what you might not realize is that the electronic data you store on your computer’s hard drive is equally vulnerable. When you use a server-based EMR system, that’s exactly where your patient data lives. In fact, most PHI breaches involve the theft of some kind of media device, such as the computer equipment used to run server-based EMRs. Web-based EMRs, on the other hand, feature HIPAA-compliant, bank-level security systems with multiple layers of access control. In an age when identity theft and fraud are major concerns, your patients will take comfort in knowing that their information is safe. Plus, with the burden of a potential PHI breach off your shoulders, you can better focus on treating and healing. That’s what really matters. Your ultimate goal and the reason you got into this profession is to help people. If bottom-line benefits, such as increased revenue, improved Medicare and HIPAA compliance, and greater efficiency aren’t enough to woo you to an EMR, remember that your patients have a lot to gain from your transition as well. At the end of the day, providing exemplary patient care is what it is all about. Your EMR should help you do just that.

Heidi Jannenga, PT, MPT, ATC/L, is the founder and chief operations officer of WebPT. She can be reached at hjannenga@ webpt.com.