Healthcare and Practice Leaders Need Operational Efficiency to Address Full Implementation of Affordable Care Act

Increasing operational efficiency will be critical for healthcare providers this year in anticipation of the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014.

The law will mean thousands of previously uninsured patients will now have healthcare coverage, which is expected to sharp increases in visits to physician offices. This influx of patients will mean that physician offices will have to operate as efficiently as possible to control costs while handling the new demand.

Physicians and staff won’t have the time to search through paper files, which are inefficient in the best of times and will become only more so as the number of files grows along with the number of patients.

If a patient needs his or her records for a lab, hospital or another medical facility, referral to another physician or for some other reason, he wants to know to be able to have the records quickly and know that they are stored safely.

The growing files also mean storage issues for paper documents. Physical space isn’t an issue for electronic storage.

“Productivity has increased 100-fold,” since installing Digitech’s ImageSilo ECM says John Herndon, manager of IT, patient accounts at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center. “We’re able to access information in almost real time. The reporting structure is excellent. I like the audit trail – especially in healthcare, that’s extremely important. The ability to follow the document allows us to stay in control.”

The inefficiencies of paper documents from a business perspective are essential from a business perspective of running a physician or medical practice. ECM is critical from a compliance standard as well for medical practitioners who want to take advantage of the government incentives offered for converting to electronic health records.

Medicare, Medicaid Considerations

To continue to participate in Medicare and Medicaid healthcare record (EHR) incentive programs, eligible medical professionals as well as eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals must meet the government’s “meaningful use” requirements.

Eligible professionals can receive up to $44,000 through the Medicare EHR Incentive Program and up to $63,750 through the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program “to implement, upgrade or demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHR technology,” according to the federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Implementation of an ECM system enables a medical provider to achieve compliance for Stage 2 of meaningful use requirements and to be prepared for implementing Stage 3.

However, simply moving to electronic files is only part of the solution. Just as a physician and his or her staff don’t have them time to be shuffling through paper records, most also don’t have the technical expertise or the desire to install and maintain hardware and software.

Go to the Cloud

So the answer is an ECM system that is deployed via the cloud, using Software-as-a-Service. Such a deployment means that the medical office doesn’t need to install and additional hardware, and any software patches or other updates are handled by the supplier. This means that there are no capital expenditures (e.g., computer, server or additional storage capacity) to get started. The physician or medical office pays for the on-demand service on an as-you-go basis, meaning the user can deduct the cost as an operating expense as incurred for tax purposes, rather than capitalizing and depreciating expenses over several years.

Another important factor is that since a cloud-based solution isn’t housed on site, there’s no fear of losing data in the event of a natural disaster or a power outage. Make sure that the provider has redundant, geographically distributed data sites. This ensures that in the case of a regional disaster, like Hurricane Sandy that the records are still intact and easily retrievable through an Internet browser. Similarly, the provider should have sufficient capacity and systems to provide a 99.9 percent up time guarantee.

Other Considerations

In evaluating ECM solutions, it is also critical that a healthcare provider scrutinize some other elements of the offering. It should work seamlessly and integrate easily with other commonly used applications, like Microsoft Office. Similarly, it should enable the user to view hundreds of different types of files.

The solution should include encryption capabilities and multiple layers of security to ensure patient privacy and data integrity. Extensive audit trails, security controls and easy implementation of records retention of records retention and destruction capabilities are necessary to meet government and industry regulations.

Extensive, full-text search capabilities that support synonym, fuzzy logic, natural language and other functionality are critical to making the retrieval of records truly fast and efficient.

Conclusion

ECM is essential for medical providers to handle the flood of new patients expected from full implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014. By installing such a system in 2013, providers have the time to learn how to best benefit from the efficiencies of an electronic system before the onslaught of new patients comes in 2014. A cloud-based solution relieves the technical and capital expense complications and enables a medical provider to start using ECM immediately.


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