By Zachary Blunt, manager of product management population health, Greenway Health
Electronic health records (EHRs) were expected to revolutionize healthcare practices, making them more efficient, reducing costs and enabling them to provide more coordinated care.
But ask healthcare providers about the EHRs they’ve deployed, and the results are far from what was expected.
In fact, more than 60 percent of healthcare professionals rank their return on investment (ROI) for EHR systems as “terrible” or “poor,” according to a recent survey from Health Catalyst. Another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, estimated the costs of billing and insurance-related activities using EHRs ranged from $20 for each primary care visit to $215 for inpatient surgery, totaling 3 percent to 25 percent of professional revenue.
So, why aren’t EHRs living up to the hype and delivering the promised investment? In many cases, it has to do with these systems not being used to their highest potential.
Here’s a look at five steps healthcare practices can take to address challenges resulting from EHR implementation and maximize their ROI.
- Get Buy-In Across the Board — from IT to Finance to Front Office Staff
Adopting EHRs to manage clinical activities impacts many revenue cycle-related functions, such as patient registration, insurance eligibility, scheduling and the services/treatments a patient received during each clinical encounter. To achieve ROI, EHRs must be able to improve several operations of a practice and streamline the workflows of different departments. It’s best practice for all clinicians and staff to weigh in before installing new systems or technologies.
- Provide Strong Leadership, Communication and Training
Changes in common practices during EHR implementation can result in significant resistance from users or a longer learning curve that hampers efficiency and adds to the cost of the system. To achieve results, healthcare leaders should clearly articulate the EHR implementation plan, prepare themselves for a transition period and develop a training protocol so all users understand their roles in using the system. In addition, users should have a solid background and understanding on how their roles factor into the overall success of the system and the practice at large.
- Improve Staffing Efficiency While Improving Operating Margins
Labor costs can account for nearly half of a healthcare provider’s operating costs. But providers often fail to take a strategic look at how adjusting staffing can improve the bottom line. Often, providers use historical averages to determine staffing levels at their practices, resulting in an outlay of overtime pay outside the planned budget when unexpected staffing demands occur. Data from EHR solutions, as well as enterprise resource planning (ERP) sources, can be analyzed to gain a better understanding of historical staffing trends. Accenture estimates that by getting insights from EHR and ERP data, U.S. healthcare providers could save more than $77 billion over the next five years by reducing overtime and overall labor costs.
- Integrate Practice Management
Healthcare practices often rely on a patchwork of different solutions to support various facets of their business. Integrating EHRs with practice management solutions can yield significant ROI by enabling connectivity to all systems and services from the desktop. This integration enables access to all patient information, supports centralized billing and efficient revenue cycle management and improves participation in value-based care programs such as MIPS, Medicaid Meaningful Use and Advanced APMs.
- Discover New Value from EHR Data
Valuable data resides within EHR systems. The key is knowing how to unlock that data to improve your ROI. By applying analytics to the EHR system, practices can uncover important insights on how to streamline value-based incentive programs, optimize billing and cash flow and improve population health initiatives, all with the goal of gaining greater return on your EHR investment. Investing in staff with a blend of technical and clinical proficiency is the first step to unlocking insights from practice data.
Adopting an EHR alone will not guarantee greater profitability. There are, of course, start-up costs associated with buying and installing the software. Then there is staff training and getting through the transition from historical systems to the new EHR, not to mention ongoing maintenance and support fees.
To achieve ROI, however, practices should identify and work with a vendor that provides ongoing guidance, support and training, while also proving their product solution is easily adaptable and can continually meet the organization’s specific work flows. It’s also ideal that practices address their specific needs and challenges up front, ensuring the selected technology will assist the organization and its providers in achieving improved health outcomes. In doing so, practices will be better equipped to leverage the valuable information that resides within the EHR and can ultimately ensure an optimal return on their technology investment.