Revisiting the ROI of an EHR Investment

Posted on August 5, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Barry Haitoff, CEO of Medical Management Corporation of America.
Barry Haitoff
Now that we’re well on the road to being meaningful users of an EHR, I thought it would be interesting to take a step back and look at the ROI of an EHR investment. Hopefully this will be a valuable resource for those still considering an EHR investment and those who’ve already adopted an EHR in their practice. Some of the items listed below are benefits you receive automatically just by using an EHR. Other benefits require some thought and effort on your part. Hopefully this list will remind you of EHR benefits you might have forgotten and ones you can still work to achieve.

Repurpose Space – One of the big advantages of EHR software is that you can store your entire chart room on a relatively small server. Plus, if you’re using a hosted EHR solution, you don’t even need space in your office for a server. Once your paper charts get scanned into your EHR, you can often repurpose your chart room into a revenue generating exam room. I’ve seen some cases where an extra exam room made it possible to bring on another doctor or mid-level provider. In other cases, the extra exam room was able to make existing doctors more efficient. Either way, I don’t know very many practices who say, “We have too much space.”

Eliminate or Repurpose Staff – Nobody likes the idea of eliminating staff as part of an EHR implementation. However, there are two ways I’ve seen organizations reduce staff after implementing an EHR. First, some organizations reduce their staff through natural employee attrition. When a member of your staff chooses to leave your organization, some organizations decide not to replace that staff member since many of their duties are no longer needed in an EHR world. Second, some organizations take their existing staff and repurpose them to perform other tasks. For example, I’ve seen HIM (medical records) staff who are also medical assistants switch to more of a clinical role in the organization after implementing an EHR.

Avoid Penalties – One of the best reasons to make an early investment in an EHR is to avoid the government penalties. I’ve written about the meaningful use and PQRS penalties before, but this is likely just the start of the penalties the government and private payers will implement on those who don’t use an EHR. The long term ROI of these penalties is very large for most practices.

Quality Measures and Value Based Reimbursement – Meaningful Use together with the Value Based Reimbursement Modifier (VM) are the start of a shift towards reporting and getting paid based on clinical quality measures and outcomes. EHR software is at the center of this shift and will be essential to easily document and report these measures and outcomes. While we can put a hard number on the EHR incentive payments that are tied to these measures and the VM, you can be certain that this number will only continue to grow as the government and payers require more data.

Improved Charge Capture – Eight years ago, improved charge capture was the main ROI mechanism that EMR vendors used to sell software. The idea being that the EMR could help you more fully document the patient visit and thus allow you to bill at a higher level than you were doing previously. As in most things involving money, some doctors took this too far and started using the EMR to over code visits. These EHR over code abusers aside, the majority of doctors I know are chronic under coders. Many of these doctors under code because they don’t want to spend time documenting the normal findings that would let them code at a higher level. A well implemented EHR can help doctors fully document even the normal findings in a visit and therefore allow them to bill at a higher level.

Cancel Transcription – Depending on how you use (or don’t use) transcription, this may or may not be a part of your EHR ROI calculation. While transcription can still be used with an EHR, the majority of EHR users stop transcribing as part of the EHR implementation process. Once you make the switch to documenting directly in the EHR or using voice recognition, it’s easy to forget how much money you were spending on transcription.

Improved Workflows – A well implemented EHR software can improve your clinic’s workflows. The lab result workflow is a great example of how an EHR can improve the workflow in your office. The amount of time saved ordering labs and retrieving lab results in an EHR world is significant. Sure, lab interfaces aren’t perfect, but they’re a lot better than the paper model. You can see similar workflow benefits from X-rays and even a well implemented patient portal. Of course, your workflow can be negatively impacted if you’re not careful and thoughtful in how you implement your EHR. However, EHR technology can do a lot to improve a clinic’s workflow when you replace time intensive paper processes.

Streamlined Internal Communication – Related to improved workflows is improved communication. When it comes to internal office communication, most EHR software comes with a secure internal messaging service or task system. This replaces all those sticky notes, stacks of charts, or notes in boxes that would occur previously. Now messages aren’t lost and can be more easily tracked in the internal EHR messaging. Plus, you can also often report on how fast tasks are being completed.

Streamlined External Communication – We’re still early in EHR’s ability to facilitate secure communication with external providers. While some EHR software offers a provider portal for this communication, I’m more interested in the progress of Direct Project which allows the secure transfer of patient records between doctors. As these technologies mature, the time saved at the fax machine and sorting data records will be tremendous.

Eliminate Paper – Once you implement an EHR, you quickly forget how much money you were spending on paper and paper charts. Don’t forget to think about this cost savings when looking at the value of EHR. While some paper just disappears post EHR implementation, you’ll likely find that there’s still plenty of paper lingering around your office. You’ll never eliminate all of the paper from your practice, but you should ask yourself if you really need the paper you’re using or if it’s just part of an old practice that’s no longer needed. Furthermore, many EHR enabled offices print off insane amounts of paper from their EHR for no reason. This extra cost can be avoided with a little planning and awareness.

Chart Search Time – This is another one of the EHR benefits that quickly gets taken for granted. In the EHR world, it is extremely simple to find the right chart. I don’t need to outline the challenges that existed in the paper world with finding the paper charts. Medical records staff were amazing at organizing and finding paper charts, but this all required a lot of time organizing and locating the right chart. This is all but eliminated in the EMR world.

Along with the financial and efficiency benefits mentioned above, there are lots of other benefits to using an EHR like: legible notes, drug to drug interaction checking, and ePrescribing to name a few. However, even more important than all of the benefits mentioned above is how important an EHR will be to future reimbursement and care. As was mentioned, Medicare’s started penalizing non-EHR users and we’ll likely see other payers in some form or fashion follow their lead. Along with current and future EHR related penalties, there’s a real risk that you won’t be able to practice the highest quality medicine without an EHR and the future technologies it facilitates. The medical standard of care will likely require an EHR.

Medical Management Corporation of America, a leading provider of medical billing services, is a proud sponsor of EMR and HIPAA.