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Voices of experience weigh in: Do electronic medical records make for a better practice?

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Success, apprehension, satisfaction, struggle—all describe ObGyns’ experience with EMR. Part 2 of 2.



Who is who on the roundtable panel


G. William Bates, MD, MBA

Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn

Have introduced EMR to their practice

B. David Hall, MD, FACOG

Rowan OB/GYN Associates, Salisbury, NC

Don Shuwarger, MD, FACOG

Forest Women’s Center, Forest, Va

Have not introduced EMR

Frank O. Page, MD, FACOG

Henderson Walton Women’s Center, Birmingham, Ala

Mark A. VanMeter

Group Practice Manager, Columbus Obstetricians– Gynecologists, Inc., Columbus, Ohio

Are your colleagues in private practice who have made the transition to a system of electronic medical records (EMR) satisfied with their decision and experience? Yes and, on some points, less than yes.

For practices that—perhaps, like yours—haven’t made the leap, the question is: What’s holding them back?

In this concluding installment of a two-part article on EMR, a panel of three ObGyns and one ObGyn practice administrator talk with Moderator G. William Bates, MD, MBA, about, in the case of two practices, the work of bringing EMR into their offices. Two other panelists describe their practices’ calculated reluctance to discard paper processes right now.

Why have you and your partners adopted EMR?

Shuwarger: Our practice quickly identified the direct and indirect benefits of bringing technology to bear on our processes. Paper records were often illegible, misplaced, or being used by another staff member. We recognized that to meet our internal goals for growth, increasing patient safety, and streamlining processes, we would have to adopt an EMR solution that met those needs.

Hall: Our practice was drowning in paperwork. An exam room was recently converted to hold more charts, and two warehouses held our overflow. Employees were constantly searching for records, and telephone messages were delayed for hours or days until the chart could be reviewed. Notoriously bad handwriting and incomplete documentation hampered good communication and good medical care. Transcription costs were out of control. Forms helped but added to ongoing costs and storage problems.

What efficiency gains have you achieved?

Shuwarger: Forest Women’s Center is able to see more patients in the day because our ObGyn-specific EMR system has a “Patient Portal” that enables patients to enter all their history and complaint-specific information in advance of a visit. Another efficiency is the time gained by never searching for lost or misplaced charts. We also like the ability to access our records 24-7-365.

Hall: The patient’s chart is readily available. Hours of searching have been eliminated, and patients’ questions, lab reports, and prescription refills can be managed with very few steps. The physician can record recommendations and treatment plans, which the staff relays to the patient. Records take about the same time to finish, but they are much more complete and legible, with dramatic gains in safety for the patient and improved liability protection for the physician.

Which features provide the greatest value?

Shuwarger: The patient portal that I mentioned is a great time saver for us. We were amazed at the acceptance and rapid adoption. Even our octogenarians love it. Universal access to data is of incalculable value. One of our physicians loves to go home early, have dinner, and then review his charts from home. EMR improves my recordkeeping, makes encounter documentation more complete, and helps me avoid medication errors. Our billing staff loves the thorough documentation when it is time to file or appeal claims.

Hall: Immediate access to a clear, legible, and complete patient record provides a solid foundation for our medical decision making.

How have your patients reacted to your conversion from paper to EMR?

Shuwarger: At the beginning, there were people who resisted the patient portal, but when they saw for themselves how it enhances the visit experience and helps their physician address their needs, they became vocal proponents.

Hall: Our patients are impressed with our knowledge of their history, with the fact that reports are immediately available, and with how responsive our staff is to their needs. Rather than creating a barrier to communication, TabletPCs allow them to see images of their own procedures, illustrations, treatment outlines, and even education videos. Flow sheets help mark their progress or encourage them to better adherence. Many seem pleased that their medical records are so cutting-edge. Their confidence in our medical skills appears enhanced.


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