How Important Is EHR and Billing System Integration for Medical Practices?
The healthcare IT market is maturing, and providers are gaining a greater understanding of what their practices need from new technologies. Applications that were once seen as innovative now label themselves as “1.0,” signaling the limited nature of the first generation of products to hit the market.
For example, “patient portal 1.0.” The first iteration of patient portals had limited functionality, beyond their core purposes. Now, providers—not to mention Meaningful Use standards—expect and require more.
The desire for integration is perhaps the most prominent expectation among current healthcare IT buyers.
This makes sense: as practices begin building a technology infrastructure that contains electronic health records, practice management, and billing functions, it’s only logical for these systems to integrate.
To return to the example of patient portals, new reports find that best of breed, or EMR-agnostic, solutions are losing market share to their integrated competitors. And that’s despite best of breed portals often offering greater options for interfacing with other systems.
The latest Black Books Rankings, an annual survey of the EHR market, supports these trends. For example, 90 percent of managers in independent practices believe integrating practice management, electronic medical records, and revenue cycle management into a single system will ensure long term gains in both productivity and profitability.
The same overwhelming percentage of physicians plan to source all three platforms from a single vendor by the beginning of 2016. All indicators point to tremendous demand for integrated healthcare software. Lets examine some of the main benefits to such a system.
The Benefits of Integration
You don’t have to dig too deep to understand why combining electronic health records with practice management makes sense for providers. Some key benefits include:
- Consolidation: Housing the patient data used by your EHR and practice management system in one database makes both clinical and administrative workflow smoother. Office staff won’t have to stop working on one program and open another to find specific data, and they also won’t have to enter data twice into two programs since the PM software can pull information from the EHR, and vice versa.
In addition to increasing efficiency, this software model can also increase revenue. Since the data all live in one warehouse, it’s easier for practice management software to pull claims to submit to payers and CMS. Along the same lines, it will be easier for the practice management system to identify and correct improperly coded procedures, which could increase reimbursement for providers. Finally, consolidating patient data increases the accuracy of the reports generated, resulting in greater insight.
- Interoperability: While healthcare professionals may immediately read this word and think about communication between external systems, in this context it refers to communication between internal systems. Creating a seamless transition of data between your PM and EHR system increases the accuracy of healthcare data on all fronts.
While integrated tools such as computerized physician order entry do reduce the risk of prescribing errors, the possibility of human error will always exist. A system that integrates different programs (i.e., EHR, practice management, and even billing), reduces the number of data entry points, and therefore minimizes the situations that require redundant data entry. Ultimately, this reduces the opportunity for human error.
Furthermore, internal interoperability helps prevent privacy breaches. Though external threats are not unheard of, nearly all privacy breaches stem from human error, which again, is influenced by the number of data entry points through which office staff must navigate.
A concerted push for integration is good for providers and patients alike, and signals a growing maturity in the technology both parties rely on. For providers, integration simply makes too much sense, from both a cost and quality perspective.
Moving forward, the best EHR systems will feature integrated practice management capabilities that handle the administrative workload, while the EHR attends to the clinical responsibilities. The data already prove it’s what providers want.
Is your practice moving toward a single, integrated platform? Share your experience in the comments.