physician examining images of body parts

Spotlight on Small Practice: 4 Tips to Make the Most of an EHR

Small practices face some tough challenges when it comes to EHR utilization. We’re throwing a spotlight on these types of organizations this week. What are the major obstacles facing a small practice when it comes to adopting an EHR? And how can small practices take greater control over their existing EHR systems to get more of what they need? We examine these questions and give you 4 quick tips to get the most out of an EHR in the small practice environment.

Small Practice, Big Challenges

Small practices face obstacles that larger organizations simply don’t have to worry about. Budgetary and time constraints are two major concerns when first adopting an EHR. Furthermore, small practices often have to navigate the maze of tasks to comply with federal regulations on their own. CMS rules and policies change quickly; the complex processes involved in MIPS, APMs and other programs can be tricky for even the most seasoned compliance professional. How to best spend time and money, and keeping up with federal rule changes are major challenges that most small businesses face, often requiring efforts that take time away from other areas of need due to smaller staff.

Practicality is Top Concern

It’s fitting that small practices’ primary needs from their EHR software are directly related to the more practical concerns of a small business. The 2019 Best in KLAS Small Practice Ambulatory EMR/PM survey sought to discover what small practices need most from their EHR vendors. The survey defined a small practice as consisting of 10 or fewer physicians, including a range of small practice professionals and EHR vendors in its methodology.

The professionals describe product functionality, usability, and vendor support as their top areas of need. Additionally, the same survey found that 88% of small practices do not use tools such as patient portals, secure messaging or clinical decision support. These tools were developed by EHR vendors with the intention to improve efficiency. But if core needs aren’t fulfilled, the patient engagement and efficiency benefits that come with utilizing more advanced features can be a pipe dream.

Closing the Gap

How can small practices close the gap right now? Functionality, usability, and support are all aspects of an EHR that can usually be addressed with proper training, so training on basic features is critical. From implementation and beyond, here are 4 tips for small practices to make the most of their training while saving time and money.

  1. With a finite amount of training hours to spend, small practices should block out time well ahead of their first training date for each office member to learn their appropriate roles and tasks. Encourage questions; any EHR trainer should make sure you understand basic functions before moving on to advanced concepts.
  2. Some staff members might be reluctant to give up their time for EHR training. A study published in the Winter 2019 Perspectives in Health Information Management by Crawford, Kushner, Wells and Monks found that level of training and experience with an EHR system affected documentation time. More experienced users posted significantly faster documentation times than less trained users. They concluded an increased focus on early training of residents in documentation skills may lead to improvement in efficiency. Investing the training time now will clearly pay off for the practice on a daily basis.
  3. Determine if your EHR has built-in features for federal compliance. For example, Exscribe provides a MIPS Dashboard module that’s readily accessible from the main screen, designed to show compliance progress in visual charts. How do you locate these features? Access to the online support website can be extremely useful here. Posted release notes will describe the latest updates and how to take advantage of them (along with step-by-step videos on the site for basics refreshers). It should be free as a current user.
  4. Finally, if you have a firm grasp on the basic features, but want to go further to improve overall functionality, consider inquiring about customization. Your support technician should be able to route your inquiry to the appropriate party to start the process. Customization can further tailor the EHR to your practice-specific workflows, maximizing the usability of your system. This option has the potential to fully optimize your software, saving you time that previously would have been spent on the phone to the support desk.