There are many advantages of electronic medical records for physicians which tend to fall into one of three main categories: qualifying for federal incentive payments, workflow benefits, and administrative cost benefits.
Qualify for Federal EHR Incentive Payments & Avoid Penalties
Federally funded EHR incentive payments under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) are available for qualifying health care providers under either Medicare or Medicaid programs. All (Medicare) or the majority (Medicaid) of EHR incentive payments under either plan require “meaningful use” of an EMR system accredited by a proper certification authority. It’s important to note that there are several stages to meaningful use, all of which must be met for ongoing EHR incentive payments.
Maximum available EHR incentive payments vary depending on whether a health care provider qualifies and applies for payment under Medicare or Medicaid grants. Under Medicare, a maximum of the lesser of 75% of Medicare Part B claims or $44,000 is available to medical providers over a period of five years. Under Medicaid, a maximum of the lesser of 85% of the purchased EMR cost or $63,750 is available to medical providers over a period of six years.
Use of an EMR system is required by the end of 2015 in order to avoid Medicare reimbursement penalties, which start at 1% and increase to 5% in 2020.
Workflow Advantages of Electronic Medical Records
Once an EMR system is installed and staff are trained in its proper use, retrieving and updating patient clinical records is performed substantially faster and with fewer errors. In most cases, this allows health care providers to finish patient charting more quickly, and to do so while with the patient, increasing accuracy and completeness of the record. This efficiency can result in an increase in scheduled visits per hour with no degradation in patient care quality. Alternatively, by reducing the burden of administrative work, it allows a health care provider to concentrate more on the patient and less on paperwork.
While paper based patient charts are difficult to copy and are susceptible to fire or water damage, computerized medical records storage allow for easy and secure backup off site.
Compliance with HIPAA standards, such as ANSI 5010 claims submission standards and the transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10 diagnostic and procedure coding, are made substantially easier, since necessary changes can be performed programmatically and automatically.
Furthermore, virtually all EMR systems allow integration with insurance payment systems, allowing for more efficient and timely claims submission.
Sharing patient charts and medical information with other health care providers is also made substantially easier with an EMR system. While EMR interoperation is a long term goal and one not realized yet, it is possible to select patient information, including lab results and other diagnostic information, and share that with other providers, substantially increasing the quality of patient care.
Administrative Cost Advantages of Electronic Medical Records
Besides improving the delivery of health care to patients, another one of the benefits of electronic medical records integration is that it can reduce administrative and other related costs for physicians. Storage space dedicated to paper charts can essentially be eliminated once the transition to an an EMR system is complete. Likewise, staffing for filing and retrieval for a patient files and the need to purchase paper based supplies is substantially reduced or eliminated.
A 2003 study by the University of California that focused on solo and small group physicians found that though results greatly varied, some physicians saved up to $20,000 per year through EMR / EHR implementation. “More successful users decreased transcriptionist, medical records, data entry, billing, and receptionist costs,” states the report. These clerical and back office economic advantages of electronic medical records will vary from practice to practice.
Systemic Benefits of Electronic Medical Records
Once widespread use of EMR is in place and the transition to ICD-10 is completed, it will become easier to build longitudinal patient records, and gather broad-based epidemiological and efficacy data, improving the quality and efficiency of health care delivery.