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Office automation can ease workload for providers

July 26, 2012
by Brian O'Neill
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If you take care of three c's that stand in the way of new technology -- cost, complexity, and customization -- you can use technology to better focus on two other c's -- patient care and customer service.

The time has never been better for behavioral health professionals to update their organizations through automation. The smart use of technology eliminates duplicate paperwork, increases productivity, improves cash flow, and alleviates endless hours spent filling out forms and formatting treatment plans for each patient's insurance provider or government payer.

Yet despite the low cost, user-friendly and highly customizable options now available, some professionals are still hesitant to take the step. For many, the issues of cost, complexity and customization still stand in the way. They needn’t.

Cost

For many providers, one of the first things they look at when considering whether or not to automate their office is cost. In fact, if the price isn’t right, they often don’t consider the other factors at all. The good news is that automating an office today is far more affordable than ever in terms of both initial cost as well as ongoing commitment. And when the time and expenses saved through efficiencies are considered, more practices are recognizing meaningful savings and financial rewards by letting technology do the work.

A good example of this can be found in electronic health records (EHRs), which are designed to make everyone’s job easier and go a long way toward reducing costs, gaining efficiencies, and enhancing patient care.  EHR systems are available today for as little as $29.95 a month with minimal start-up costs. Some of these systems are able to use your practice’s existing computer system – whether it is Windows- or Mac-based - thus minimizing the cost even further.

Because EHRs have been shown to improve quality, safety, efficiency and access, the federal government is offering financial incentives (through the 2009 economic stimulus package) as a way to encourage all providers to adopt EHRs sooner rather than later. In order to be eligible for these incentives, provides need to choose an EHR system that has been certified as achieving “meaningful use.” To receive a “meaningful use” designation, the system must be proven to improve care coordination, reduce healthcare disparities, engage patients and their families, improve population and public health, and ensure adequate privacy and security.

Complexity

Some behavioral health professionals are hesitant to automate their office for fear that learning a new system and a new way of doing things will be far too complex and will disrupt the flow of the office. It doesn’t need to be that way. To minimize disruption to your office practice, look for systems and vendors that make migration from “paper” to electronic as simple and hassle-free as possible. Fortunately, some of the most advanced systems are actually the least complicated. Well-designed systems include intuitive interfaces and logical prompts that allow users to easily input data, access needed information and navigate the program.

It helps, too, if your team is able to continue using the same computers to which they are accustomed. Cloud-based EHR programs, which rely on the Internet to store both program software and data, allow users to gain access to an EHR system without installing or hosting any new software. And they can be securely accessed at any time from any location, which greatly improves convenience.

When identifying a vendor for your office’s electronic needs, also look for one that offers free, unlimited training and around-the-clock customer support. Knowing that every user in the office can get a knowledgeable representative to answer their questions should alleviate concerns that a new system is going to be too complicated to use.

Configurable, customizable

EHR systems for therapists, mental health, and behavioral health providers have distinctive features specifically designed for their unique needs. For example, leading mental health software systems offer charting templates for evaluation and progress notes, automated coding to ensure highest possible E/M codes, and medication and prescription management tools. Additionally, EHRs for psychology, psychiatry and behavioral health often have e-prescribing capabilities to electronically generate prescriptions and the proper documentation, and a laboratory request interface to track patient lab results.

The best programs can be configured or customized to meet the specific needs of each behavioral health professional. Make sure the one you select is.

Conclusion

By removing the three Cs that might stand in the way of implementing a new technology-based solution – Cost, Complexity and Customization – your team will be able to focus on the two most important Cs: patient Care and Customer service. The time to take the step is now.

Brian O’Neill is president and CEO of Office Ally, a company that offers revenue cycle management services, a patient portal, an  electronic health records system, a practice management system, a clearinghouse and a billing service. www.officeally.com.

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