The decision to implement medical software is a big one for any physician, but oncologists have a vested interest in making sure the new system can actually meet their needs. In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know so you can make the best health IT investment for your specialty.
Oncology is a complex specialty with unique terminology and protocols, especially when it comes to ordering and administering chemotherapy. One of the biggest challenges oncology clinics face is ensuring orders are documented properly and regimens are followed accurately, since there are significant consequences if the wrong drug or dosage is administered. Therefore, many oncologists are adopting electronic medical records (EMR)/electronic health records (EHR) to help reduce these risks, limit liability and increase quality of care.
Oncology EMRs, also referred to as electronic health records (EHRs), are designed to meet the unique requirements of oncologists. First and foremost, this means managing the ordering and administration of chemotherapy drugs. These EMRs also have unique cancer and hematology work flows and templates, and may have applications for reporting, cancer registry and clinical trials.
|Mapping & staging classification||Based on the information provided, decision-support engines can map the cancer, identify the stage and recommend appropriate treatment options.|
|Chemotherapy automation||Automated dosing, ordering and scheduling prevents errors by making orders easier to read, manage and administer. Oncology EMRs should also incorporate the documentation for drug admixture and administration, including inventory management for accounting for any billable waste.|
|Oncology SOAP notes templates||Because every form of cancer is different, oncology EMRs include specialized templates for different kinds of cancer (melanoma, sarcoma, neoplasm, leukemia etc.), different types of treatment (chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery etc.) and other unique situations. When selecting your EMR, make sure the templates are most effective for the type of oncology you practice and for your individual workflow.|
|Digital imaging & lab test integration||Mammograms, ultrasounds, CTs, MRIs and PET scans are just a few of the digital tests oncologists perform in assessing patients during diagnosis and treatment. Ensure that the tests you perform—and the specific tools you use—integrate into your EMR, allowing to store data and track progress over time.|
|Clinical trial support||If your practice is involved in—or considering being involved in—clinical trials, it’s important to select an EMR that supports this aspect of your practice. Features might include a database of current research and ongoing trials and automated patient-trial eligibility matching, both to find existing trials for new patients and to bring existing patients into newly approved trials.|
|Patient education||Oncologists have the noble but unenviable charge of helping their patients through one of the most difficult times of life. Education is invaluable in leaving patients with the experience of compassion and support as they navigate this challenge. A high-quality oncology EMR will allow the physician to document the information given to the patient, so you can be sure they are left fully supported.|
Make sure the system you purchase meets the needs of your specialty or subspecialty (e.g., radiation oncology, surgical oncology, ocular oncology, gynecologic oncology and others). Recent legislation supports oncologists in particular in the adoption of EMRs, offering full or partial grants for purchasing or upgrading software, so take this into account.
Now that you know which functionalities to look for as you evaluate oncology EMRs, you should also take into account the following factors during the selection process:
Software as a Service (SaaS). The emergence of Web-based oncology software has made a significant impact on the EMR industry. Demand is growing for SaaS-based oncology electronic medical records. Upfront costs are lower, the applications are easier to use and because patient records and charts can be accessed via the cloud, doctors are able to make updates and review notes anywhere there’s an Internet connection. While this has raised some concerns around HIPAA compliance and general data security, vendors are making strides to ensure sensitive data remains secure.
ONC-ATCB certification. Perhaps the most significant news for oncologists recently is the U.S. government-backed move towards oncology EHR adoption. President Obama signed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act into law in 2009, offering a “carrots and sticks” plan for medical offices to move their oncology clinic's medical record system into the Cloud. To qualify, doctors have to show “meaningful use” of an ONC-ATCB-certified EHR system—and qualified practices can earn up to $44,000 in reimbursements in the form of increased Medicare and Medicaid premiums.
Stage 2 of HITECH Guidelines were announced in early 2012, and physicians now have a mandate to become meaningful users. Those that fail to qualify will face decreased Medicare and Medicaid payments. For those evaluating oncology software solutions, one major deciding factor should be whether it’s certified or not.
Mobile device support. With Web-based oncology-specific EMR systems hitting the market, more clinics are accessing patient data on the go—via smartphones, tablets etc.—and this number is growing. EMR vendors are responding by offering more support for wireless devices. Some are even offering native apps for various operating systems (Apple, Android, Windows). When evaluating oncology practice management software, consider what you’ll need in terms of mobile support.
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