What Operational Improvements are Practices Looking For in 2013?

Some say that old habits die-hard. Today’s physicians, however, aren’t fazed by age-old adages, apparently.

According to the recent Practice Profitability Index (PPI) study, 41% of the more than 5,000 physicians questioned cited specific plans aimed at operational improvements in the coming year.

The main areas of focus for technological enhancements include implementing a new EHR (41%), replacing an existing EHR (25%), outsourcing billing/collections (18%), and replacing a practice management system (16%).

Let’s take a closer look at the reasoning behind these specific operational improvements and how they would benefit the average practice.

Implementing a New EHR
Can you count the amount of staff hours wasted scouring through messy chartrooms searching for a single patient file? EHRs eliminate this inefficiency by organizing patient files into one, easy to access system.

Practical EHRs not only make medical charts easier to read by eliminating legibility issues but also increase security, facilitating Meaningful Use attestation.

Furthermore, EHRs create employee access audit trails upon command. Unlike those nebulous chartrooms, where providers never really know who is accessing personal health information (PHI), a secure EHR tracks and records which staff members are accessing specific patient records. This grants the physician better control of his or her practice and helps maintain HIPAA compliance. 

Replacing Existing EHR
The first issue a practice should consider before replacing an EHR is whether their current system is facilitating the organization’s goals. If the software is preventing the earning of incentives, damaging the quality of patient treatment, or reducing redundant costs at the practice level, it may be time to start looking at new vendors.

An EHR vendor should be willing to assist when needed through a strong customer service department. If a physician is having technical issues with the electronic health record and the vendor isn’t committed to making the necessary improvements within a sensible timeframe, consider evaluating other EHR systems.

Lastly, practices need to assess whether the system is occupying too much staff time. Essentially, EHRs should make the practice more efficient. Unnecessary time consumption will severely hinder productivity. If an EHR hampers the practice’s ability to treat patients and perform ePrescription and billing tasks, it probably won’t handle the difficulties of health reform legislation later on.

Outsourcing Billing and Collections
According to the same PPI study, 60% of physicians spend more than one day a week on administrative-type tasks like billing. By outsourcing billing, all related administrative tasks should be eliminated.

This time can then be used for more profitable activities like spending additional time treating patients. With the upcoming influx of patients to the Affordable Care Act, freeing up time to treat patients will become more important than ever.

With outsourced billing, there’s no need to maintain a billing staff and deal with all the issues that come along with it. Even though billing companies typically ask for a percentage of collections, it is usually only a portion of what is normally paid to full-time billing employees in salary, bonuses and benefits.

Additionally, when dealing with a third-party billing company, the practice enters into a contractual agreement where the vendor is expected to achieve a certain level of performance. This means they’ll want to perform their best to keep existing business. By finding the right billing company, denied claims should decrease, thus increasing practice profitability.

Replacing a PM System
Practices are always looking to lower costs, increase flexibility and facilitate patient care. A first-rate PM system will achieve all of these while also improving the office’s workflow.

Shoddy PM systems are clunky and slow, especially when dealing with client/server solutions.  While server hardware was the norm the last time many practices made a technology decision, the world has changed. The cloud has become a part of practice’s daily lives, offering a more versatile solution that adapts seamlessly with industry changes.

In addition to the changes providers are seeing from the HITECH Act, new coding sets will require many medical groups to replace or switch out their practice management systems to adapt to changes in billing. Many current systems were developed in the ‘80s and ‘90s and cannot acclimate new industry regulations.

For instance, the transition to ICD-10 will require a PM system that can quickly and effortlessly adapt to change. Cloud-based PM systems will update their medical codes automatically to incorporate ICD-10 without incurring any extra cost to providers. In contrast, client/server solutions usually charge their customers for updates and require a technician to come in to make any changes.

Within the context of all U.S. physician practices, PPI figures show that 20% of all providers want to implement new technology in the next year, adding to the 75% who already have. An additional 20% intend to replace the system they currently use.

Take into account the 9% who intend to outsource their billing and collections staff in order to improve revenue, and we see a dramatic shift in how physicians are approaching their business models. The question is how this trend will help shape the future of healthcare.

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