Information technology and healthcare administration advancements have paved the way for health organizations to improve their efficiency and quality care. To fully leverage the potential of these advancements, healthcare administrators, practice owners and care providers in the market for medical practice solutions must make the best software-related decisions. Recognizing the difference between Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and Practice Management Software (PMS) is a first step towards that end.
EHR or EMR. All The Same, Right?
Despite sharing certain characteristics, EMRs and EHRs essentially serve different purposes. An EMR is a digital version of a patient’s medical chart. It contains information such as medical history, diagnoses, medications, allergies etc. An EMR operating medical practice in need of referral to another provider for example, would not be able to transfer their patient’s medical history electronically but would have to manually process that instead, which will require time and effort. This is where the role of EHR as a more advanced technology-based tool comes in.
While an EMR’s scope of practice is limited to circulating patients’ medical information within a particular facility, an EHR transcends that to allow multiple providers to electronically exchange patients’ information through real-time access to a common medical records database. In this sense, an EHR constitutes a more holistic reference to clinical data, giving providers a wider range of patient data and ability to trace the long-term trajectory of a patient’s health information compared to an EMR.
Can Your EHR Do This?
Whereas the basis of EMRs/ EHRs lies in their clinical focus of storing essential patient information, practice management softwares (PMSs) are concerned with the administrative side of operating a healthcare practice. Essentially a PM software is used to electronically manage all day-to-day financial, administrative, and logistical tasks that a health facility requires. This covers front-office tasks like patient check-in, appointment scheduling, and insurance eligibility verification, as well as back-office tasks like, medical coding and billing, financial analysis, and insurance claiming etc. By allowing all these tasks to be processed in an automated fashion, PMSs work to boost the administrative efficiencies of any health practice as well as save time and money.
Seeing how EHR, and PMS deal with different aspects of running a healthcare practice – clinical and administrative – it becomes clear that both are imperative to the efficient operation of any healthcare facility. While it might be difficult to envision the correlation between these two distinct functions, blending the two systems is a vital step towards meeting the evolving demands of interoperability and the building of a complete electronic patient management system.
In fact, a study has identified the lack of an integrated PMS/EHR among the key barriers hindering successful EHR implementation. To this end, there are varying degrees to which a PMS can support EHR integration. This ranges from no integration to data interfacing, data integration, and workflow integration.
EHR/ PMS: Three Modes of Integration
Having no integration capabilities entails that some basic PMSs can’t interface with EHRs or exchange any data with them, in which case the same information must be manually input into two separate systems. Other degrees of integration include:
Data interfacing is the minimum functionality for an integrated EHR/PMS system. It simply entails interoperability of the two separate softwares. Both systems have real-time insight into each other’s data. Patient medical history and treatments captured in EHR can be transferred to the PMS, and insurance and billing data in PMS can be transferred to the EHR in the same way. This kind of integration might reduce or eliminate duplicate data, but it is still prone to errors.
Data integration means that an EHR and a PMS operate under a single, shared database. This eliminates the need to synchronize changes in master files and maintain an HL7 interface as a translator between the two systems. Data stored in one system is simultaneously available in the other. For instance, processing a claim in a PMS can make use of easy access to all the necessary clinical information stored in EHR for this operation. Similarly, lab tests and medication orders made by an EHR can access required information from the PMS database in real-time.
In addition to having a shared database, EHR and PMS systems can also offer workflow integration. This entails the ability of clinical and administrative staff to communicate and exchange information. This integrated health record format includes features such as direct messaging between users. This allows physicians for example to communicate vital information with administrative staff which can potentially enhance the overall clinical process and reinforces a physician’s long-term care plans.
Benefits that can be achieved through EHR/PMS integration
In general, the primary benefits of integrating your EHR system with a PMS include:
- Allowing clinical staff to have access to a single healthcare IT platform to handle all their business and patient related needs, saves time and effort and increases staff productivity.
- Seamless data exchange between a practice’s departments promotes interoperability, Streamlined coordination, and reduces the rate of clinical errors since an EHR system automatically retrieves information from a PM software and vice versa.
- Alleviating the administrative burden of staff repeatedly entering the same data into two separate programs, EHR integrated solutions help clinical staff invest more time in patient care. As a result, the overall organizational efficiency and clinical workflow of a healthcare facility are improved.
- With the shift towards value-based healthcare, Improved patient care that comes with adopting an integrated system minimizes issues related to Revenue Cycle management (RCM).
- An EHR/PMS solution also simplifies compliance with the government (ex.HIPAA compliance), and insurance reporting requirements which, in turn, increases profits.
PMS/ EHR solutions have become a rapidly emerging model. However, not all EHRs and PMSs are built the same. Thus, awareness of the above key considerations can bring much needed perspective into finding the right solution for your practice. If you are considering purchasing one or both products, you need to consider opting for an integrated offer or one that can integrate with your existing system depending on your desired level of integration.