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Practice Mergers and EHR/PM Platforms: 5 Considerations for a Single System
As physician practices merge, forming larger group practices and multispecialty organizations, they often run into a situation where the various practices use separate EHRs and practice management (PM) systems. This creates inefficiencies and inconsistencies that ultimately limit some of the merger’s intended benefits. To prevent this, merging physician offices should consider moving to single EHR and PM technology platforms.
In my experience, pursuing single platforms yields several patient and practice benefits. For example, it streamlines the patient experience, allowing an individual to complete one registration and receive one bill, rather than registering on different systems used by physicians in the same practice and receiving patient statements from each provider. Not only does efficient access prevent patient frustration and potential leakage, it can have a positive impact on the patient’s choice of practice.
Consolidated applications also generate cost benefits by eliminating the administrative and staffing expenses that come from supporting multiple systems. Moreover, single solutions allow organizations to standardize workflow based on best practices, reducing process variation and elevating clinical and financial work streams to foster greater efficiency and performance.
A unified platform also improves business intelligence and informatics capabilities because all data comes from one source. This allows the practice to dig deeper into the data to improve overall quality of care delivery and enhance population health. When practices retain disparate systems, it can be cost prohibitive to aggregate data, particularly for small to mid-size practices.
While the potential benefits are significant, it can be challenging for merging practices to choose the right EHR/PM system. I recommend keeping these five points in mind during the selection process.
- Understand the true cost of a potential solution. In my experience, no two vendors have the same cost structure, so be sure when calculating total system costs to make note of one-time charges, such as installation fees, and recurring expenses, like annual software license renewal fees. Don’t forget to include the full scope of physician training in the cost analysis, as many estimates do not include the value of the physician’s time spent in training.
- Assess a vendor’s ability to support the practice’s specialized clinical needs. Not every system will adequately support clinical operations, and practices should make sure to check for the necessary depth and breadth of content. Keep in mind that clinicians require robust functionality that can be tailored or modified to meet multiple clinical specialty requirements.
- Consider the full impact on physicians and other providers. It is wise to determine if a system truly allows providers to perform their jobs better, such as by seeing more patients, completing charts efficiently or improving patient communication. Even though completing tasks faster is important, the quality of data and the ability to leverage it across the care continuum are even more so. I’ve seen first-hand how strong provider documentation can substantively improve quality of care, accelerate learning about best practices, and enhance clinical and financial outcomes.
- Look at the systems currently used across the merging practices. Review integration capabilities and requirements across the care continuum, including those of current and future hospital partners and referring providers. I have seen situations where having the same platform provided a competitive advantage for future risk-sharing or care collaboration opportunities. At the same time, evaluate the scalability of the various practice solutions to meet the expanded complexities of the merged practice.
- Assess the practice’s current and future state requirements to “future-proof” the technology investment. To make sure a new system does not become obsolete as the merged practice evolves, it is important to think about current as well as future needs. For example, look at physician productivity and billing performance, practice growth plans, changing reimbursement patterns, evolving reporting requirements, potential new specialties and future alignment opportunities with hospitals or other groups. Within this context, evaluate the vendor’s track record for flexibility and innovation, as well as costs associated with previous new developments and rollouts.
In the end, we all know that making the decision to pursue a single EHR and/or PM platform is not quick or easy. Using these five considerations as a guide, organizations should devote sufficient time to fully analyzing the options before deciding on a strategy that best meets the practice’s current and future needs and goals.
Brad Boyd is vice president of sales and marketing for Culbert Healthcare Solutions.