Since family practices are considered “general medicine,” many assume that a general one-size-fits-all electronic medical record (EMR)/electronic health record (EHR) system is perfectly sufficient to meet their needs. Though this may be true, it’s also true that general practitioners practice a specialty just like any other, and therefore can benefit from an EMR that’s specifically suited to the high volume, wide variety and long-term relationships associated with family practice.
A family practice EMR should aid the physician in nurturing long-term patient relationships, provide support in making referrals to specialists and incorporate the variety of complaints and conditions they see on a regular basis. In addition to core functionality, such as medical records, billing, inventory management and scheduling features, consider the following specific criteria when selecting your family practice EMR software:
|Patient history||Family practices maintain relationships that last many years, and possibly even multiple generations. Therefore, it’s important to consider the way patient history is stored and presented in subsequent visits. Does the EMR store family history to alert the physician of genetic predisposition? Does it show the patient’s immunization/vaccination, allergy or medication history to facilitate accurate and effective treatment? Does it have growth charts for trend monitoring over time? Ensure your EMR solution stores this information and reports it in an easy-to-use way.|
|General practice SOAP notes templates||Family practices deal with a wide variety of conditions, so family practice EMRs can have hundreds of specialized note templates in order to accommodate them. For example, there can be templates for cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, nervous system, ENT, gynecology, derm, ECG, abdominal/chest pain, physical exam, well/sick baby/child exam and CHDP (California).|
|Multiple complaints||General practitioners’ patients often come in with multiple complaints in a single visit. Therefore, a family practice EMR should have an interface that lets a physician easily chart multiple complaints simultaneously.|
|Laboratory, medical device and pharmacy integration||Because of the variety of complaints, family practices need to be able to integrate with a broad range of medical tests. Many EMRs can automatically import data from lab results or medical devices, preventing the timely and error-prone process of transcribing test results. On the other side is e-prescribing and the ability to communicate directly with the pharmacies and access the patient record for potential adverse drug interactions.|
|Referral Integration||Referrals to specialists is a major part of family medicine, so EMR software that’s designed for family practices will include technology to make the referral process quick and easy. This might include an online referral network, automated printing of referral letters and even the ability to send the electronic patient record to the referee.|
|Patient correspondence||As the first line of patient treatment, a family practice needs quick and easy access to common forms of correspondence, including work/school excuse letters and health maintenance/checkup reminders that can be sent automatically based on the patient record.|
|General practice billing and treatment protocols||With such a vast array of potential conditions, family practice-specific EMRs provide more assistance on ICD-9 and CPT coding and billing for common and unusual encounters. Since these systems integrate their administrative and clinical workflows, they know the procedures that have been performed and the treatments prescribed, making the claim process faster and more accurate.|
Increased use of patient portals: These are secure applications that allow practitioners to manage patient communications. This functionality is gaining popularity in the market because it enables real-time sharing of test results with patients. Users are able to simply log into their profiles and access their records, instead of having to call up their doctors for information.
Since patient portals are online platforms, there’s always a risk of theft of patient data. To prevent such instances, the government passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act to ensure data security in health care systems. Incompliance with these regulations may lead to penalties on Medicare reimbursements.
Importance of Meaningful Use certification: In 2009, the Obama administration signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that gives medical practices reimbursements of up to $44,000 for purchasing software. The act aims to improve technology adoption in health care practices.
To be eligible for reimbursements, the software needs to follow the meaningful use standards defined under the HITECH Act. It’s the vendor’s responsibility to ensure that their products and services follow HITECH guidelines.
Since the rollout of the HITECH Act, both existing and new medical software users are adopting solutions that are compliant with meaningful use standards. So far, the government has released two stages of meaningful use and the deadline for adoption of the third stage is 2018.
Ease of e-prescribing capability: This feature allows practitioners to send their patient prescriptions to pharmacies online, eliminating the need for handwritten prescriptions and faxed notes. Due to its application, e-prescribing is one of the most requested functionalities in the family practice EMR software market. It’s also a regulatory requirement for receiving a meaningful use certification.
Software-as-a-service for cost saving: Traditionally, small and midsize practices have been hesitant in adopting technology for everyday operations. The main reason for this has been deployment costs, high initial investment and difficulty of use for non-technical users. However, as government incentives have become tied to cloud-based EMR software, there has been a steady rise in the adoption of these technologies among this buyer segment. The rising adoption is a result of the low initial costs, subscription-based pricing and ease of use for users with minimal technical experience.
Convenience of mobile applications: With the proliferation of mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, EMR applications are gaining popularity in the market. The use of mobile applications helps practitioners log assessments, diagnoses, treatment plans and prescriptions while travelling and without having to type into a computer keyboard. This convenience has led to increased adoption of EMR software from vendors who offer mobile and tablet support over vendors who don’t. In the coming years, we expect to see more vendors adding mobile applications to their offerings.
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