It’s nothing new to say that healthcare has lagged behind other industries when it comes to technology. It took government incentives to get physicians to widely adopt electronic health records (EHR), and it looks like it will take incentives and penalties to drive interoperability. This is because both interoperability and integration are huge challenges for healthcare — both across the industry and among individual practices.

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Many medical practices are still logging into multiple systems for practice management, billing, EHR, and practice marketing. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different applications available in each of these categories. You’d be hard pressed to find two, comparable practices with a single piece of software in common.

The Cost of Disparate Systems

There are some clear drawbacks to running a medical practice through an assortment of disconnected tools, instead of a single, integrated system.

Security and convenience: Every user in a practice may have several different sets of login credentials, which is both a hassle and a security issue.

Overcomplicated IT environment: In a typical practice today, is isn’t unusual to see a combination of on-premise software and cloud software, multiple systems that are not integrated, paper, fax, and phones, etc. With the advent of value-based reimbursement and a focus on care coordination, many are adding other solutions to manage components of care or reporting, which further exacerbates the problem.

Inefficient workflows: The use of disparate systems and paper-based processes in a practice can easily result in increased supply costs, longer time between service to getting paid, increased phone calls into the practice, and many more inefficiencies.

Benefits of an Integrated Platform

Most recognize this isn’t an effective way to run a business, especially as reimbursement becomes more challenging and patient experience moves to the forefront. In a 2014 Black Book survey of independent practice providers and office managers, 89 percent agreed their billing and collections systems processes needed upgrading just to stay profitable.

There has been a lot of research around the benefits of integrated solutions for practices and for the industry at large. West Health Institute estimated that integration and interoperability could save the industry as much as $36 billion. The previous Black Book survey also showed that 90 percent of business managers in practices agree that an innovative, seamless RCM/PM/EHR system would ensure long term practice independence and greatly improve profitability.

In an independent practice, the savings and increased revenue can come in many forms:

  • Reduced paper, office supplies, and printing and mailing expenses
  • Increased coding accuracy and charges
  • Faster payment turnaround
  • Improved communication in the practice and with patients

Eric Pokky, practice manager at Total Healthcare for Women, noticed the costs savings and efficiency very quickly after they implemented an integrated platform. He estimates they are saving about $100 a week in charting and other supply costs alone. “One of the other biggest pluses has been no more lost charts,” he says. “I used to walk around looking for charts all the time, and we had stacks of records everywhere.” Now he uses his time to focus on other important tasks like practice marketing.

Josh Bock, DC, managing partner at AFC Physical Medicine & Chiropractic Centers, says the most obvious benefit of their integrated practice management, billing, and EHR system has been that they are more efficient and connected across their nine locations. Before implementing their integrated system, they often struggled to collect a payment from a patient at the clinic because the billing office was in another location. Supervising providers would have difficulty reviewing and approving visits notes. Now they are able to easily collect payments from anyone, at any location, and all providers can access the EHR in real time.

Moving Your Practice Toward Interoperability

With today’s affordable, cloud-based solutions, a medical practice can easily implement a single platform to manage almost every aspect of their business. There is no more need for multiple systems or a combination of software and paper. Since Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement will be increasingly tied to the use of technology in the coming years, now is the right time to consider a change.

As a starting point, look for a vendor that offers practice management, billing, clinical documentation, patient communications, and practice marketing in a single system. This will enable a single patient database and single sign-on for every staff member. Also, be sure the system is the right size and scale for your practice. There are plenty of features a hospital or large multi-specialty enterprise needs that a smaller independent practice does not.

Tom Giannulli MD, MS is a practicing physician and the chief medical information officer for Kareo, a cloud-based medical office solution for small practices. Giannulli has over 15 years of experience in medical technology and has helped shape Kareo’s business and clinical strategies.

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