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The 360-Degree Approach

May 1, 2007
by Andrew Corbin
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EHRs are only a first step in what should be an effort to integrateclinical and financial applications

U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island recently proposed a bill that would provide incentives for physicians and hospitals to use electronic health records (EHRs). Dubbed The Personalized Health Information Act, it would ensure that doctors receive $3 for each patient they have signed up to an EHR. This Act is evidence that EHRs — along with other tools such as practice management systems — are rapidly becoming more than just “nice to have” tools. They are quickly becoming a source of revenue.
Andrew Corbin

Software systems are playing an increasing role in driving revenue and enhancing patient care; this is not a surprising turn of events when you consider the increasing complexity of business challenges confronting healthcare organizations. As the number of patients increase, the time to pursue revenue through collection and other processes decreases. Physicians and staff must make daily choices: attend to patients or expedite reimbursements? Put in more hours to dedicate to patient time or paperwork?

While it's true that incorporating EHR and practice management systems is still a significant short-term investment, long-term benefits can far outweigh upfront cost. Implementing an EHR system provides numerous benefits to patient care, as well as gleaning operational business efficiencies. First, it allows the organization to chart patient data in an easily readable, adjustable and shareable electronic format that promises immediate access from any location.

Second, administrators no longer have to hunt down paper charts; when a patient calls or stops by for a visit, staff can immediately access the patient's record to answer any questions or concerns. True, this means increased efficiency, but it also means increased revenue, because it allows staff to spend more time working the past-due accounts receivable.

This leads to the second piece of the revenue-generating puzzle: instituting a practice management system that integrates directly with the EHR. If the EHR lays the groundwork for enhanced patient care and revenue collection, a practice management system brings it full circle. Using these two systems together, hospitals and practices can not only create and track patient charts, but tie them directly to a patient's scheduling, demographic, clinical and financial data.

The practice management system provides staff with the ability to access, among other things, information pertaining to a patient's history, insurance coverage and billing records. It can also help automatically post payment information and alert staff when a particular account is past due. Thus, administrators no longer spend a significant amount of time keeping track of when payments might be late, let alone tracking down the paper records for documentation.

Finally, healthcare organizations should choose accounting and business intelligence systems that interface directly with clinical and practice management software in place. By tying these all together, the “360-degree approach,” organizations can obtain an at-a-glance view of accounts receivable, clinical expenses, payroll, productivity, budgeting, and more. This will provide complete control of all of the businesses’ finances and allow practices to analyze every overhead expense — even business supplies — on a per-procedure basis, so as to determine which procedures bring the most profit to the bottom line.

This approach provides hospital and practice staff with the ability to monitor and improve administration and patient care. Charts can be created, accessed and/or updated; schedules can be developed and managed; and financial data can be tracked and updated as necessary. All of this can be done from multiple locations, which is particularly useful for a hospital or clinical network that relies on multiple offices and cross-sharing of patient information.

The implementation of EHR, practice management and accounting systems is a trend that continues to grow, and is driven by government incentives and healthcare organizations' needs for finding better ways of doing business. Integrating the two systems takes that business beyond improved efficiency, generates additional revenue, and impacts organizational growth.

Andrew Corbin is CEO of Tampa, Fla.-based Sage Software Healthcare Inc