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Make the Change

innovations-edge

When is it time to make the transition to EMR?

Michael Connors, PT, DPT, OCS

Health care is at a crossroads. Daily, we face increasing pressure to maximize efficiency and create a more streamlined method of care delivery. Along with advances in the practice of physical therapy, there is a push to migrate toward an electronic platform for medical records. As a practice approaches making a smooth transition from paper to electronic medical records (EMR), one must consider many factors.

A practice utilizing paper documentation has likely developed a mechanism to maximize efficiency within that system, and its clinicians are comfortable and confident with this method. The mere mention of change may push these clinicians over the edge.

Opinions on the best manner in which to transition from paper to an electronic platform vary. From a conservative perspective, a practice would be wise to do this gradually, inputting new patients into the system starting on the go-live date. Existing clients would remain with the paper documentation system until the time of their discharge from therapy.

A more aggressive opinion would be to make the transition all at once. The rip-off-the-band-aid-quickly approach involves transitioning all patients to the EMR on the go-live date. This system requires a tremendous amount of resources in the initial stages, but results in an immediate transition of the entire practice to the electronic format. No single approach is better than another; each practice needs to evaluate their specific situation to discern the best course of action when transitioning from paper to EMR.

The transition, while cumbersome and complex at times, represents a paradigm shift in our profession as more interfaces for billing and documentation are moving to an electronic platform. Although Congress is requiring hospital organizations to move to an electronic medical record by the end of 2014, physical therapy private practices are not included in that mandate. If your practice is utilizing paper-based documentation, you first need to consider your rationale for moving to an electronic medical record. Transitioning to an EMR is a substantial investment, so everyone in the practice needs to be on board.

Once the decision is made, the next step is to consider the best plan for the transition. This determination should be based, in part, on the operation of your specific practice. Lastly, a comprehensive implementation plan should be derived to ensure a smooth transition from paper to the EMR.

When is the right time to make the transition? What will the transition entail? How do I ensure that it is timely and smooth? These are all questions that every practice should ask prior to making the conversion from paper to EMR. In addition, to ensure adequate planning prior to rollout, consider the potential impact on revenue due to the implementation of the EMR and a contingency plan to address any shortfalls should be contemplated ahead of time. With appropriate planning prior to implementation, the transition from paper to an EMR can be a stress-free process with a predictable outcome.

The best ways to ensure a smooth transition from paper to EMR:

Assess your practice’s rationale for switching from paper to EMR. Your strategic planning analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats can be a useful in analyzing the need for such a transition.

Invest the time and resources to develop a comprehensive implementation plan to ensure a timely and smooth transition from paper to an EMR. Proper planning prior to implementation can reduce the potential for adverse occurrences resulting from poor preparation.

Perform a comprehensive assessment of different electronic medical record systems to discern the best for your practice. There are a multitude of options when considering an EMR, so sufficiently researching the options ahead of time can avoid aggravation down the road.

Implement the EMR in a manner that best addresses and complements the needs of your practice.

The transition to an EMR can be a daunting task for a practice utilizing paper documentation. The process can be made less intimidating by investing the time and resources in proper planning prior to the implementation of the new system.

Michael Connors, PT, DPT, OCS, is an Impact editorial board member and principal of K&B Practice Solutions, in Fort Worth, TX. He can be reached at mjconnorspt@gmail.com.