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How EMRs Can Change Patient Care for the Better

When considering the use of EMRs, we’re quick to think about how they’d affect the workflow in our organization or practice. However, it’s also important to consider the many ways in which EMRs can improve patient care. Today, let’s talk about some of those.

Information Sharing

This is one of the greatest advantages of EMR systems. Information sharing saves physicians time they’d otherwise spend communicating information to other offices. But it also ensures that, as patients travel from one appointment to another, their medical information travels with them. What saves you time saves the patient time, as well. Patients appreciate how information sharing enables them to efficiently share their medical records when they move, change providers, or see a specialist.

Coordinated Scheduling

Long wait times are a top complaint among patients. EMRs can drastically improve this issue within your practice. This is in part because they simplify processes and increase efficiency, but timestamping is another important factor. When we use paper-based systems, we often think we’re keeping more accurate track of wait times than we actually are. Time stamping provides well-documented metrics on every patient, so you’ll be able to see how often you’re missing your target wait time, and you can identify problematic patterns and address them, as well.

 Fewer Errors

Using an EMR is like having the Physician’s Desk Reference in your hand at all times. You’ll be able to quickly and easily check for interactions when prescribing medication. Equally valuable, because of the information sharing we discussed earlier, Emergency Room staff will know about important details of a patient’s record (like life-threatening allergies). This is invaluable when a patient is confused or can’t communicate.

 Improved Diagnoses

All of this connectivity provides robust support for physicians. When you have a patient’s medical history, insurance eligibility, and test results at your fingertips, you have all the puzzle pieces you need to make the most accurate diagnosis. What’s more, by using EMRs, you may save your patient’s life when you’re not the one providing care. Your detailed records could lead to a specialist making the correct diagnosis when they might otherwise have missed something crucial.

 Improved Follow-up

Healthcare organizations that use EMRs are up to 30 times faster than paper-based practices when it comes to identifying a need for follow-up care. EMRs makes it easy to review patient records faster, and that’s a win for everyone. Further, EMRs are great for keeping up-to-date and easy-to-access patient contacts, so when you realize you need to reach out to a patient, it’s easy to do.

ICD-10 Codes: Are You Underusing Them?

 In another blog, we mentioned that one billing practice that raises red flags for insurers is using the same code over and over for multiple patients. The truth is, ICD-10 codes are a departure from older diagnostic coding systems. And limiting yourself to a single code presents problems for both the insurer and the patient. Here are some reasons why:

 You might be accustomed to relying on what are known as “pain codes.” These are ICD-9 codes that refer to the patient’s actual complaints during consultation. But the problem with handling diagnoses in this fashion is that you’re only describing symptoms. Treating symptoms does not necessarily result in increased wellness. ICD-10 codes are meant to encourage and enable best practice when it comes to diagnosis and billing. As a result, ICD-10 works best when you’re choosing codes that address the root cause of a problem.

 The new ICD-10 codes are specific enough that they need to be used together to paint clear “portraits” of individual patients. The use of a single code can come across as inaccurate simply because it’s monochromatic. If it were a painting, a single code would be Snow White in a snowstorm. When that’s all you submit, insurers worry that you’re not investigating deeply enough when you diagnose a patient, or that you’re not understanding the importance of clearly communicating with insurers. Use multiple codes to provide a detailed rendition of your patient’s needs.

There’s an even bigger issue to think about: non-specific codes can cause confusion because they don’t seem to justify the services the patient receives. Whether you recommend additional procedures, referrals, or prescriptions, if the code you’re using doesn’t seem to reflect your reasoning, you’re cruising for a denial of reimbursement. Underusing ICD-10 codes denies patients services.

 Another important factor to keep in mind that individual physicians aren’t islands unto themselves. You are one link in the chain of providers that serve any given patient. The codes you choose will help other healthcare professionals glean insights and draw conclusions about the next steps they should take. There are even “cause codes” that explain how and where an injury occurred. An inaccurate or non-specific code can lead to misdiagnosis and even the implementation of inaccurate therapies. The right code opens a dialogue between the initial physician and specialists.

The goal, obviously, is not to simply pile on additional codes, but rather to thoroughly document a patient’s condition and serve as a valuable participant in the dialogue between providers. By understanding how to apply ICD-10 codes in combination with each other, and implementing them as they were designed to be used, you streamline patient care, billing, and reimbursement.

Coding Changes Are Coming! An EMR System Can Help

The ICD-10 codes have been out for less than a year. ICD-10 sports five times as many codes as ICD-9, and already major code additions and revisions are on the way. 1900 code changes were proposed at the March meeting of the Coordination and Maintenance Committee, covering everything from ectopic pregnancy to the Zika virus. That’s on top of nearly 4,000 new codes already set to roll out in Fall of 2016.

 The increased specificity ICD-10 provides is meant to improve diagnostic coding and even streamline payout rates. But it’s a lot to keep track of, and plenty of practices are intimidated by the prospect, even with this year’s specificity grace period. EMR software can be the partner you need to help you navigate the complexity of the ICD-10 system, and make sure your practice is implementing the changes smoothly. How can it help?

1. EMRs conduct automatic updates. If seventh-character code extensions are intimidating your office staff, imagine how nervous they are about new and revised codes. New codes are longer, too, up to seven digits compared to the three to five digit ICD-9 codes. But EMRs can help make the process of adopting new codes relatively painless. As changes roll out, cloud-based EMR software can roll with them, providing you with constant code updates so that you can be sure you’ve got the correct codes.

 2. EMRs provide easy access to prior patient visits. Because you’ve got centralized, digital records, you won’t have to go hunting for codes. You’ll be able to build a complete portrait of a patient’s needs using multiple codes. You can feel secure that none of that information is being lost or forgotten from visit to visit. And you’ll be able to pass it along to specialists, therapists, and lab technicians, too.

 3. EMRs make finding the right code easier. As we mentioned earlier, physicians are still operating in what the CMS is calling a “specificity grace period”, which means that as long as the codes you choose are in the right family, you’re unlikely to be penalized if they’re not as specific as they ought to be. That said, the grace period will draw to a close right as the 4,000 codes we mentioned earlier are added. So, how do you ensure that you’re choosing the specific codes you should be? Well-thought-out EMR software is designed to help you search for and narrow down codes, saving you time and effort.

 EMRs are not a substitute for medical and billing expertise. It’s important to train employees on ICD-10 using the many free resources available, and make sure they understand how to use the many tools your medical record and billing software provides. But EMRs are a flexible resource that can help a savvy practice improve implementation of ICD-10 codes and stay abreast of updates.