Integration and imaging crucial to specialty practices

Clinical data capture and access as well as physician ordering are an electronic medical record's (EMR's) bread and butter.

The bulk of the physician's time in daily practice is spent performing those basic functions on the system. However, specialty practices that rely heavily on imaging, such as ophthalmology, dermatology and plastic surgery, face workflow challenges when imaging is not integrated into the record.

This lack of easily accessible imaging information typically requires physicians to toggle between two systems, or print images, and align them with the equally essential textual data from the EMR for safe and effective clinical decision making. Compiled over numerous patient encounters per day, all of this shifting between systems diminishes productivity. While inefficient, the lack of integrated imaging can also contribute to diagnostic errors, which can result in poorer outcomes.

Integration of not only imaging, but also numerous other practice functions, creates efficiencies for specialty practices that rely on high productivity, in addition to quality care, to improve financial performance and better patient outcomes.

Cost saving integration
Imaging-heavy specialties need to store, retrieve, manipulate and display digital diagnostic images in an efficient, cost-effective way. Device integration through a picture archiving — or PACS — system allows images and data generated from equipment to be imported directly into a patient record. This lets providers retrieve and review images quickly, which eliminates switching between systems or printing images, saving time and improving workflows.

Moreover, with plug-and-play interoperability programs, demographics and orders can be automatically sent to the equipment, and images can be uploaded into the patient chart without requiring expensive VPN technology or third-party software. Apart from automating data entry, the result of this integration is higher quality documentation, which can strengthen chart audits and reimbursement.

In addition, having a patient's record available on a mobile device allows physicians to easily show their patients medical imaging or test results right on the device to help explain their condition and the best course of action. Patients usually react to the use of tablets during a visit in a positive light, noting that it allowed their clinician to access their medical information quicker.

This imaging integration further enhances patient care with a more complete and manageable patient record while enabling practices to accommodate higher patient volumes.

Integration beyond imaging
An integrated platform delivers benefits beyond access to imaging. For example, when Botox injections are administered at dermatology practice, they can be automatically deducted from the inventory system and simultaneously added to the bill in the practice management system. Data captured at the front office can also flow directly to the care cycle, with payer data becoming available at the point of clinical decision-making to identify which of two procedure options or types of imaging studies a particular payer will cover.

The fact that data and images are captured once and reused as needed can reduce back-office data entry and related operating costs. It has the added benefit of minimizing manual errors that can negatively impact reimbursements. The result of both benefits is that the practice can bill more completely, promptly and efficiently.

Having data available at all points of practice management, regardless of where it is entered, enables quick access to patient records and images from the front office, the exam room or the back office. Various functions and reports can be available from any part of the system; users can seamlessly transition from functions such as, viewing images to accurately code a claim, preparing a bill, drafting a letter about a patient account, or checking on copays.

With the patient portal operating on the same database as all other practice functions, more meaningful and useful information can be made available to patients who visit the portal, including imaging. Improvements in access to patient information can spur increased portal use, which is of high interest to practices. Appointment confirmations can also flow seamlessly and automatically to the practice management module.

Productivity and quality through integration
Even with the healthcare industry migrating toward value-based payment models, specialty practices in particular need to maintain high productivity levels to ensure financial viability. Maximizing patient volume, while delivering safe and high-quality care, means practices need to automate more manual functions, including managing images.

Practice efficiency, workflows and ultimately financial health are best served by an integrated system that includes images and operates from a single database. Not only does this level of integration deliver a more seamless experience for physicians and other practice users, it also contributes to more collaborative patient encounters and stronger levels of engagement.

About the author:
Mike Scarbrough serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Nextech

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