EHR: From Pain To Gain

EHR: From Pain To Gain

The Drawbacks and Benefits of Implementation

When it comes to EHR implementation, many people wonder why it hasn’t yet taken off. The technology is there, but awareness still isn’t where it should be.

EHR offers physicians some incredible benefits, especially when it comes to coordinating patient care. Think about this for a moment: today, many patients have a complex team of doctors. There might be a primary care physician, a cardiologist, an oncologist, a nephrologist, and a rheumatologist all treating the same person.

Chances are, this patient’s medical records are scattered in half a dozen offices. These doctors and hospitals rarely communicate with each other about the patient, which increases the likelihood of errors like duplicate testing and unnecessary or conflicting prescriptions.

Implementing EHR eliminates this risk to the patient as well as offering a wide array of other benefits. Yes, implementation can be challenging, but the final result is worth it.

Let’s take a look at the breakdown of drawbacks and benefits to EHR implementation.

Challenges

By far the biggest hurdle to EHR implementation is cost. At the American Health Information Management Association conference in October, 2006, the panelists estimated that the average cost of purchasing and installing an EHR system would cost over $32,000 per physician. Maintaining the system would cost $1,500 per physician, per year. That’s a hefty price tag for any facility, much less the smaller clinics.

Other studies have put the cost much lower, at $10,000 to $15,000 per physician.

The good news here is that thanks to the Health Information Technology (HIT) Extension Program in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, over $19 billion has been set aside for incentives and investment into EHR implementation.

Another drawback is the learning curve with EHR. Most physicians see a drop in productivity the first six months after full implementation, and NY E-Health estimates that this productivity drop will cost around $11,000 per physician during the first year. There are several reasons for the drop in productivity.

First, physicians and support staff have to learn the system. This takes training and time. If the new EHR system isn’t user-friendly and doesn’t take into account the needs of clinicians, and the data they need on a daily basis to make decisions, then the learning curve is going to be even higher.

There’s also a good chance that, at first, the system might not function correctly 100% of the time. Errors in implementation or use can result in a frozen or delayed system, which can cost minutes or hours in patient care.

Another major drawback to EHR implementation is the lack of privacy for patients. According to some experts, 150 or more people might have access to one patient’s records.  This accessibility could lead to vital information like family statistics and billing information leaking out, or errors due to the sheer number of staff involved in entering information.

Benefits

The good news here is that EHR implementation will offer patients, physicians, clinics and hospitals several benefits.

One major benefit to EHR is that it can reduce operating costs and increase revenue for clinics in several ways:

  • EHR reduces transcription costs, saving an estimated $2,700 per physician, per year
  • EHR reduces billing errors
  • EHR lowers malpractice insurance costs
  • EHR lowers pharmacy costs
  • EHR eliminates unnecessary chart pulls, which can save $3,000 per physician, per year
  • EHR drastically reduces copying and paper costs
  • EHR can help increase number of patient visits per day, due to efficiency
  • EHR helps reduce the number of full-time employees needed compared to a paper-based office

Another major benefit is coordination of patient care. With an EHR system hospitals, clinics and physicians will be able to effectively communicate and share information about patients. There will be no more issues with scattered or lost records, unreadable handwriting, or duplicate treatments.

EHR also checks for drug to drug and drug to allergy interactions. This double-checking will drastically reduce errors and risk for patients. The system also allows physicians to see a complete picture of a patient’s medical history. This allows for a more in-depth diagnosis of a patient’s problem.

Final Word…

As you can see, there are just as many challenges as there are benefits to EHR implementation. Yes, the costs are high, but the potential for long-term savings will help offset these costs once the system is up and running. And, with the incentives put out by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, hospitals and clinics can expect to see some help financially for implementing a qualified EHR system.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_health_record#Improve_quality_of_care

http://www.hcpro.com/HIM-228608-6962/Economic-stimulus-package-to-offset-costly-EHR-implementation-provide-financial-incentives.html

http://www.ehow.com/list_6134055_advantages-disadvantages-ehr.html

http://www.aameda.org/MemberServices/Exec/Articles/spg04/Gurley%20article.pdf

http://www.rehabpub.com/issues/articles/2007-06_09.asp

http://www.nyehealth.org/files/File_Repository16/qanda/Costs_and_Benefits_of_EHR_Final_121009-7.pdf (all costs were taken from this source)