As the industry evolves, more urgent cares are evaluating their current electronic medical records (EMR) and practice management (PM) software solutions to make sure their practice is competitive and their processes are efficient. What worked 10 years ago needs a second look as the industry moves forward.
While urgent cares continue to be focused on efficient workflow, choosing the right partners can also have a big effect on your success.
The wrong EMR can end up costing clinics time and money—and frustration. Most practices admit to not fully considering their clinic’s needs when analyzing which EMR/PM to choose and, not surprisingly, the inability to meet practice needs is one of the most common reasons many urgent cares are looking for a new solution. In addition, shakeups in the industry based on compliance issues and business model evolution have many on-demand healthcare providers considering a switch.
You undoubtedly have a running list of what’s important when choosing an EMR/PM—not only software features, but also how well your goals align with the provider you choose. The following list of must-haves, based on years of helping urgent cares find their best solution, includes both software and service priorities that you need to consider.
While partnership is not actually a feature, it’s at the top of the list because it’s essential to your successful urgent care operation. A number of EMR vendors can provide workable software, not all of them will understand your business, share your goals, or provide added support, insight, and flexibility to work with you toward your success. The EMR/PM vendor you choose should listen to your needs and deliver software and services that meets them. They should also understand your revenue cycle and provide support and guidance to be sure you’re doing everything you can on your side to keep your clinic in good financial shape.
As the industry evolves, many urgent cares are evolving with it, offering a variety of additional ancillary services like OccMed or limited primary care. As you consider different EMR vendors, think about what they offer in addition to software and if they have the flexibility to ensure your EMR works the way you do.
And don’t limit your thinking to what you need now, but include your aspirations for the future of your business. Can your partner make your growth as painless as possible and adapt as you adapt?
Remember, partnership doesn’t end with EMR implementation. It’s only the beginning of a relationship that grows with time and benefits both parties.
Tip: Choose a business partner that can provide more than software. Your EMR/PM provider must understand your business philosophy, share your values, and contribute to your success by providing insight that supports your growth and development.
Priority 2 – Customization and Easy-to-Use Navigation
Most software is made to be generic so it can be useful for a wide range of specialties. However, the best software providers offer personalization options. EMRs should be no exception. Customized procedure lists and templates can improve chart completion rates and overall revenue. You’ll also notice higher employee satisfaction and engagement when your EMR works with your processes.
A flexible EMR—even a practice-specific model—should allow you to tweak documentation processes to meet your needs. You should be able to create complaint-specific templates (and corresponding symptom attributes) based on each provider or clinic location’s requirements. The best solutions will let you customize reports, staff reminders, free text fields, and occupational medicine protocols. Customization should be simple, without complex programming required.
Simplicity is not only important to customization, but it’s critical to navigation, saving practitioners and staff time and effort. Simple navigation starts with an intuitive interface that takes users through documentation in logical steps.
While many EMRs utilize cumbersome drop-down lists and window-in-window navigation, an EMR for urgent care should allow you to document in the fewest number of steps possible. With navigation support, like single-click selections, search queries, and favorites lists, providers won’t have to duplicate their efforts re-entering patient and encounter information.
To accommodate urgent care workflow, your EMR should allow various staff to document an encounter in any order they prefer, and access the chart simultaneously.
Tip: Pick an EMR that fits you, not one that confines you to its parameters. Ask up front about customization options so you know what can be changed within the software. Review what modifications will be needed for optimal EMR use with your staff. Create an ideal flow beforehand. and see if the EMR can do it.
Priority 3 – Powerful Business Intelligence
Urgent care is increasingly competitive. Making smart business decisions is so much easier when you have access to relevant, actionable data—ideally, this is readily available from your EMR/PM partner.
In today’s healthcare environment, we are inundated with data, beginning with the demographic information we collect from patients during registration. We collect more data at every step of the process including the most common complaints, the types of protocols we follow, and time spent per encounter. When pulled together, this data gives us power.
Your EMR should allow you to access this essential data at a glance, in real or almost-real time. It should give you the ability to configure data in a way that makes sense for your business, get numbers fast, identify trends, and drill down to get specific actionable data that is relevant to your clinic.
With the right analytics tools, you have access to key performance indicators tied to visit volume, door-to-door times, revenue, and collections, and evaluate where you excel or fall behind based on current benchmarking data. Business intelligence provided through your EMR/PM software, and by your EMR partner should give you the ability to leverage information to improve productivity, expedite revenue, and make wise business decisions—on your time frame.
Tip: Look for an EMR partner that understands the importance of analytics in your day-to-day operations, and don’t settle for a solution that doesn’t provide the tools you need.
Priority 4: Interfacing
No EMR is an island, even an integrated EMR. As a central storage area for patient data, an EMR must be able to transfer information both in and out. Choose an EMR that gives you the ability to interface with outside labs, radiology centers, and pharmacies for ePrescribing.
Most interfaces are facilitated through the Health Level Seven (HL7) standard language today, but this is moving quickly to an API world. Interfacing should have bidirectional data sharing capability, effectively swapping information back and forth, so when updates are done in one system—a patient address update for example—the change is also sent and recorded in the interfaced system. This joining of digital hands is essential to efficiency when x-rays or lab work are involved.
When evaluating EMR/PM vendors, check to see if they have successfully completed the types of interfaces your urgent care needs. Experience with interfaces means it’s more likely they can quickly and affordably create the interfaces you require.
Tip: Ask prospective EMR vendors about their interface capabilities—and if established third-party vendors are already in place.
Priority 5: Training and Technical Support
Software is a tool, and it’s only effective in the hands of skilled users. To make an EMR successful, both administrative and clinical staff must be properly trained. Ask EMR vendors about their training programs. Do they have trainers on staff to help get clinic personnel up to speed during implementation? And is training included as a part of implementation or an additional cost? What about ongoing training? Whether online or on-site, continuous training ensures your staff stays up to date on software functionality.
Access to online training helps save valuable time when onboarding new personnel. This is especially helpful for urgent care clinics which experience frequent employee turnover, along with a high percentage of part-time staff and temporary personnel. Of course, personalized training will be the most effective for EMR mastery, so check to see if the EMR vendor you’re considering has separate, role-based training for registration, triage, and billing staff.
Support doesn’t stop with implementation. You’ll need ongoing help to answer questions as they come up after your EMR is up and running. Make sure your EMR partner has its own technical support team—not contracted personnel who may be located anywhere in the world. Be sure the implementation and support team can speak the urgent care language, understands the U.S. healthcare industry, and is committed to your success.
We would all love it if software issues only occurred during business hours, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Be sure your EMR partner has the staff to handle after-hours troubleshooting, and that they’re equipped with the skills and tools to get you back on track.
Tip: Find out if training and support is offered as part of the EMR pricing or if it costs you more. Online training programs will save you valuable time with new hires. Reliable, committed EMR vendors will offer comprehensive, role-based training, and ongoing stateside tech support.
Priority 6: Patient-focused Functionality
An urgent care EMR should have tools for patient interaction. A tablet-based EMR that allows for patient engagement and education at the same time as charting can improve the delivery of care and build patient relationships. In addition, an EMR can offer other interactive tools to help patients take charge of their health choices and payment options.
If you haven’t thought about online registration and wait time transparency, you should. With these patient-centric tools, patients can complete registration before they arrive at the clinic. Then at the clinic, include a simple check-in kiosk and queue display in the lobby that shows the order of patients. Add to this, text-based appointment reminders, notifications about wait time, and secure notifications regarding the availability of lab results, and you not only engage your patients, you build relationships.
Software that offers patients the ability to pay online or setup payment plans can not only improve the patient experience, but decrease collection time.
Even in an urgent care environment where patients typically follow up with their primary care physician, communication should continue after the visit. Gauge patient satisfaction and encourage positive online reviews with a simple text-based, post-visit patient survey. One simple question about quality of service can send up a flag when a patient is dissatisfied, and allow your staff to follow up with timely service recovery. This not only lets a patient know you care, but discourages negative online reviews or word of mouth.
Another point of contact might be a web-based patient portal, which allows patients to login via the internet and view private messages, lab reports, appointment details, or other documents from their doctor—all in a secure environment.
Tip: Engage patients with helpful tools like wait time transparency, online check-in, and text reminders. Collaborate and communicate back and forth with patients with an EMR that has a secure patient portal. Also consider using a tablet-based EMR that helps improve patient-doctor interaction.
Priority 7: Dedicated Focus
A chiropractor office’s workflow is different than a pediatric clinic’s. Physical therapy is different than cardiology, and your urgent care is no exception. Choose an EMR built with your service line in mind. With software designed to work with your typical patient scenarios, there’s no need to modify an EMR to fit your clinic’s workflow—saving you time and frustration. A one-size-fits-all EMR doesn’t really fit anyone. Larger EMR vendors often focus on servicing hospitals and general practice clients—and don’t make EMRs to fit specialized medicine—nor are they focused on speed of documentation.
In an on-demand healthcare environment, user convenience also speeds up documentation for users and allows them to work on-the-go. Think about mobility when you make your choice. Tablet-based EMR software offers more convenience than applications that work only on a desktop.
Tip: Pick an EMR made specifically for your urgent care practice. All the bells and whistles offered by some EMR vendors actually sound like a lot of noise in an on-demand healthcare environment where quick and accurate charting is priority. One size does not fit all.
It can be a daunting task to choose the right EMR/PM software solution for your urgent care—especially with so many to choose from. The successful operation of your urgent care is hindered or helped by your EMR partner. If you’re switching from your current EMR, you know the limitations some EMRs have. Take your time and test each EMR option against the features you need. The perfect software, including a perfect EMR, doesn’t exist. But there is an EMR that will work best for your clinic’s situation.
An EMR review committee, composed of users and staff with a variety of perspectives, can help your clinic choose the right option. Most importantly, don’t settle for a solution without thinking about future growth. Choose an agile, forward-thinking partner that stays ahead of the trends and positioned to grow and change with the industry. A good EMR partner will not only help your urgent care run smoothly, but will also be committed to the success of your entire business. Only you can determine which EMR is best for you.