EHR Systems: Is Your Surgical Center Falling Behind?

Is your ophthalmic ambulatory surgery center still using paper records? You’re not alone. While most physician practices now use ophthalmic EMR software or EHR systems for ophthalmology practice management, many surgery centers haven’t made the switch, despite some serious improvements in software (learn more here). But today’s independent ASCs face stiff competition from other facilities in their market, heath system-owned facilities, and with hospital outpatient departments (HOPDs)—in other words, The Joneses.

By delaying implementation of an ambulatory ophthalmology clinic software or EHR system like iMedicWare, your independent surgical center is missing out on benefits that The Joneses are already realizing:

  • Easy access to good data. Quality data is more important than ever when negotiating payer rates, benchmarking, and avoiding penalties from sub-par quality reporting. Accessing and developing this data will save your center money long-term. Regularly run productivity reports with your ophthalmic software to keep track of changes.
  • Insights into the inner financial workings of your center. Ophthalmology practice management software and health record systems make it easier to identify troubling trends (like a negative cash flow) and take correctional action.
  • Sure, there are short-term downsides to transitioning away from paper. But in the long run, EHR systems and ophthalmology practice management systems assist in running your business. They improve care coordination, provide automated or nearly automated quality tracking, increase patient safety and outcomes, and improve regulatory compliance.

Why The Wait?

Given the high expense, complex implementation, and potential negative effect on day-to-day operations, it’s no wonder many ASCs are holding off. Ophthalmology practice management is changing slowly. “EHR penetration is still pretty low in terms of overall adoption rate. It varies a little depending on [the] core specialty (GI has more) but there’s no mass penetration of EHRs,” says Ashley Wise, MBA, who spoke to ASC administrators about technology at the 2017 annual meeting for the Ambulatory Surgical Center Association.

Plus, Meaningful Use incentivized physician practices to switch from paper to electronic systems. There’s no comparable program for surgery centers, so physician-owners and administrators tend to think ‘If it’s not mandatory, why bother?’

So is it time to invest in one of the many options in functional EHR systems? The answer is undoubtedly ‘yes,’ says Wise. She cites market trends like the growing push towards interoperability, higher acuity cases moving into ASCs, and a heightened focus on tracking and reporting quality as tipping the scales towards EHR adoption for most centers. Whether your center is large or small, these trends are going to affect you in some way, Wise notes. Whether that effect is positive growth and profitability is up to you—and your IT strategy.

Buyer Beware

In order to reap the benefits of an EHR, you must put in the works up front to research systems, conduct due diligence on vendors, and make an educated choice. Here’s where it gets tricky: Although some vendors offer ASC-specific EHR systems, there is currently no ONC-certified (CEHRT) system available specifically for ASCs. But the news isn’t all bad. There are “many more vendors than 2-3 years ago, [a] rush to market for small ASC-focused vendors, [and a] push from major IT vendors to compete for ASC business,” says Wise.

That influx of vendors means more choices and more tough decisions for ASC owners and administrators. “The current proliferation of IT vendors means that many solutions have overlapping or redundant features,” says Wise. “Knowing what your specific priorities and requirements are will help you identify solutions that most closely meet your needs and budget,” she continues.

There are two basic non-negotiables:

  1. A system that is ASC-specific, or at least able to be customized to the ASC setting. Workflows in an ASC are much different than those in a hospital or physician practice, and an ASC-specific system will allow you to track things—like case costing—that practice-oriented EHR systems won’t.
  2. A system that can integrate with your physicians’ practices. That way, your center can obtain things like physician orders, H&Ps, consent forms, and more directly from the practice—in a HIPPA-approved manner—instead of the patient having to fill them out again.

One of the biggest pitfalls Wise sees is when expectations meet reality. “You go through a sales cycle and you see things you think are going to meet your needs,” she says. “Then you get into an implementation and you realize you’ve overlooked things and something is missing,” she continues. To avoid situations like that, a well-planned IT investment strategy – and a shopper’s checklist for your ophthalmic software – is essential.

Tech alone is not a strategy.”—Ashley Wise, MBA

A 3-Step Strategy to Prioritize Your IT Investments

When you invest in IT, you’re not just purchasing software systems or revenue cycle management. “When you implement an EHR, you are tripling and even quadrupling the number of devices you’re supporting… [and] there are capital expenditures beyond the IT solution you need to consider,” notes Wise. Considering IT during strategic planning sessions will help ensure that your technology budget is put to good use. Wise recommends working through each of the following categories:

Category 1: What Must I Do?

  • Compliance
  • Data Security
  • Keep your core systems operational
  • Support your current business scale and scope

Category 2: What Should I Do?

  • Minimize risk to operations and finances
  • Support growth
  • Upgrade current IT to latest versions
  • Track cost and quality

Category 3: What Would I Like to Do?

  • Improve patient satisfaction
  • Improve provider experience
  • Interoperability (share data with healthcare partners)
  • Improve quality and reduce costs
  • Build and use analytics for processes improvement

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