Modern electronic health records (EHRs) must provide several core functions in order to help radiology practices reach current stages of meaningful use and fulfill increasingly more demanding future stages. A key component of such EHRs is to provide simple access to prior patient data; for example, enabling a regional hospital to quickly access MRI images that were completed at a local radiology practice. With meaningful-use Stage 1 completed, some radiology practices are selecting vendors that might only meet the minimal requirements, without considering the future needs of the practice and possible Stage 2, 3 and 4 requirements.

Stage 1 of meaningful use requires practices to implement various systems and procedures with the intent of providing improved and transparent access to information by various parties. The requirements specifically mention that providers need to “provide patients with an electronic copy of their health information upon request.” EHR solutions that are based upon nimble cloud-based platforms are ideally suited for this, as they can be structured to give patients direct access from any Internet-enabled device. Patients should be given real-time access, which is nearly impossible to achieve without a patient portal built in as a part of the overall EHR system. These patients need electronic copies of their records, as well as access to education resources that should be hosted within the EHR solution. Many practices currently do not have a patient portal because their EHR or radiology information system (RIS) does not have an integrated package for it. This often happens when the vendor simply does not write code for a new module and expects practices to find another third-party solution to “bolt on” to their system.

For radiology practices, finding a vendor that can unify the EHR, picture archiving and communication system (PACS), RIS and the patient portal allows them to fulfill various meaningful-use requirements without the inherent security risks that come with bundling several third-party systems. True integration of the various systems and the e-prescribing component can reduce the risk of errors and presents the opportunity to put in place a seamless system of alerts and flags that will follow the patient through the entire lifecycle.

If a practice utilizes a vendor that cannot fulfill the referring physician and patient portal requirements, and pushes the practice to a third party, then the benefits of integration are lost. With the implementation of a complete cloud-based EHR approach, all of the portals feature real connectivity that reduces errors and ensures continuity of care. A truly Web-based referring physician portal is key to allowing the review of patient exams from any Internet-enabled device. Such a tool is vital for shedding visibility into the scheduling of patients for imaging studies, so staff can track such patients and make sure the needed exams are actually performed.

Viztek’s Opal-RAD PACS encompasses a powerful suite of digital radiology tools to achieve a fully integrated patient database, imaging and communications system.

Many radiology practices have experienced difficulties in meeting meaningful-use requirements without a cloud-based solution. Such issues will only worsen as the regulatory requirements of Stage 2 and 3 continue until 2015 and place further demands on practices to enhance access and improve the flow of information. Improving accessibility for patients and referring physicians in order to meet meaningful use is difficult and requires an embrace of technology. Radiology practices that pursue an integrated cloud system that brings together the EHR, RIS and PACS are setting themselves up for fewer regulatory headaches. The key is to find the right cloud provider that understands the demands and flow of the modern radiology practice. The practice that can locate an integrated EHR, PACS and RIS will see myriad benefits, including interoperability with other systems, a better ability to adapt to meaningful use and other regulations (such as ICD-10) and smoother workflows.

Viztek’s Opal-Ortho PACS solution for orthopedic practices offers one single appliance that controls every aspect of orthopedics imaging, integrating the CR or DR solution and the PACS for optimal efficiency.

For the radiology group that has to read for several outpatient imaging centers and also a nearby hospital, meaningful-use requirements hold them to report on the majority of read exams. This can mean practices need an EHR that can track both outpatient studies and hospital studies. Such a function can be a core feature that can alleviate considerable pressure on the radiologist group’s IT staff that might have performed manual work to meet reporting percentage requirements. The issues with this approach are many and include the risk that staff members will manually miscalculate the number of reads that need reporting data and therefore put the group out of compliance. A robust EHR will be able to prove it is capable of proper reporting and tracking in multiple location environments without manual data logging.

Radiology practices should consider the current and future implications of meaningful use when they are in the vetting process for a new EHR provider. Stage 2 of meaningful use was submitted in proposal form in early 2012 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and was finalized in August. Future stages of meaningful use will require even more openness of information with simple access for various stakeholders, including referring physicians, patients and other entities. Quality EHR vendors will offer seamless patient and referring physician portals, where radiologists and other specialists have fast and accurate access to all needed data.

The government’s main reasons for meaningful-use requirements are to reduce errors, aid the coordination of care, improve public health and maintain patient privacy. The right solution will enable a practice to meet these requirements and hopefully incentives of future stages, which will require even more interconnectedness. Greater access will help meet meaningful use; more importantly, it also provides for more informed and efficient care.

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