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What exactly is EMR?
An Electronic Medical Record (EMR) is patient medical data, such as chart notes, laboratory tests, prescriptions, etc., stored in digital format on a computer. Once electronically stored, the physicians and staff can quickly find and review the data from any computer, even while at home or at another practice location! No more pulling folders from filing cabinets. No more pawing through paper to find what you want. No more lost charts.

To many traditional doctors, EMR is a disconcerting evolution in the practice of medicine. They think it’s likely in their best interest to take the inevitable step into the future, but they’re not sure how to begin.

The best way for a physician to overcome the fear of the computer technology is by understanding what it is all about and how it makes practices and clinics more efficient and profitable.

What EMR will cost you
Specific numbers date quickly; they depend on inflation rates and the value of the dollar. As the clever Mark Twain said, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. All figures having to do with cost need to be adjusted for inflation if they are to mean anything. The numbers I’m giving you here are raw data.

At the beginning of 2008, we knew that in inflation-adjusted dollars, physicians had tripled their spending on EMR technology since the 1990s. The AMA expected that figure expected to triple again in six years. The estimates were that the average physician would be spending about $30,000 on EMR technology, including hardware, networks, and third-party software.

Another report says buying EMR software and getting it running will cost $15,000 per physician with $300 to $500 in monthly maintenance fees, On top of that, phew, the actual costs were said to exceed vendor estimates by twenty-five percent.

What is involved in the installation of an EMR system
You should remember that while a good Electronic Medical Records system will do everything as promised, getting underway is more complicated than just having a techie show up one day and download software into your computers.

As you read this guide, you should start thinking about how to avoid confusion and frustration. If you and your staff know what they face, you will have more confidence in your ability to make the transition from paper to computer with a minimum of delay and hurt feelings. To do that, you ought to have key members of your staff and a representative from your vendor write a one-page schedule of what needs to be done and when and who is responsible for each task.

As you read this guide, you should be thinking of your office and clinic and the person or persons best suited to manage the transition. There will be problems; that’s inevitable. But with good planning, those will be kept at a minimum.

If your staff looks at the installation of EMR as an odious chore, it will likely be a self fulfilling prophesy. Do your best to enlist people. Their acceptance of EMR is vital to the practice’s success. Give your people some autonomy and authority. And hold them accountable.

The proliferation of EMR vendors
By the AMA count, there are almost four hundred EMR vendors hustling for customers, which is why the range of quality, from wannabe software designers to experienced vendors selling systems of genuine quality at a fair price. Naturally, they all claim to offer the best product. They obviously don’t. Some are better than others.

Also you need to know if a prospective vendor is a reseller or a manufacturer. There are many vendors on the market selling the same system under different names. A vendor that makes its own EMR is more intimate with its code and would have a much more realistic understanding of possible enhancement requirements to the software.

A critical issue
It is essential for medical practices to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of their charts and records. Compromised medical records can cause people to lose their jobs and destroy lives. This is why the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) mandates several penalties for failing to protect medical information.

By the same token, good health care rests on a physician’s ability to access critical information quickly and share it with other professionals who need to know. People can die if essential information is missing, or not immediately shared with the right person. If the data are stored on paper, they can be lost in a fire or a natural disaster, as we know from Hurricane Katrina that destroyed many medical practices.