How healthcare networks can learn from businesses to make electronic record implementation effective.

The electronic medical record (EMR) “meaningful-use” deadline is looming ever nearer, with hospitals and private practices alike working to beat the deadline and transition from hard to soft copies of their patients’ information. Digitizing all of that paper is just a first step in a much bigger process. It isn’t just about eliminating paper. It’s about the ability to instantly retrieve a comprehensive and holistic view of a patient’s entire medical history. That’s easy enough for patients who only go to see doctors in one clinic, or one hospital, but what happens when a patient moves or needs to see a specialist in another health network?

Like any business, the primary focus of any hospital or private practice is the customer. In a medical facility, this comes down to patient care. The upcoming EMR mandate provides a great opportunity for health practices to become lean, efficient health businesses that provide better care than ever. Medical practices can do this by using automation in their EMR programs to save time and provide the consistency, quality and efficiency they need. To see how they might move forward, all health practices need to do is look to how this works in other businesses right now.

Bridging locations

If you’ve ever shopped at a major retailer, you’re familiar with this scenario: You try on a shirt that’s exactly what you’ve been looking for … but it’s the wrong size or color. “No problem,” the sales clerk tells you. She can look to see if another store has what you want. Since all of the stores are linked to a central computer system (which is also often connected to the company’s warehouses), your item can be tracked down in the blink of an eye and sent to the store nearest you – or even directly to your home.

Hospitals within the same networks – and the doctors who practice at these hospitals but also maintain a private practice – should connect the same way. Although it would be unusual for one hospital’s instrument-processing department to ping a sister hospital’s IP to check on a scalpel in short supply, patient data, which I would argue is the real inventory of a health system, should be far more easily accessible. A practitioner should be able to instantly and securely see that a doctor in the same system prescribed penicillin, and so avoid prescribing methotrexate. A physical therapy practice affiliated with a hospital’s orthopedics department should be able to recall the surgeon’s recommendations and notes without requiring the patient to fill out a single sheet of paperwork. If EMRs aren’t easily shared between locations, there’s really no difference between keeping local electronic records and the old-fashioned paper records we’re trying to get away from. To be truly beneficial to patients, EMR systems should also be automated and connected like other business-critical information.

Increasing efficiency

Automating and connecting electronic medical records doesn’t only help patient care, either. It’s also vital to staff efficiency. Once records are appropriately networked across your healthcare system, staff in all departments, at all locations, will be able to access them at the touch of a button or the tap of a few keys. There will be no long walks between wards to find a missing prescription, no phone calls to decipher a doctor’s handwriting when building an invoice. When a radiology tech updates a patient file, the new notes will automatically reach the patient’s surgeon, the billing department and the insurance coordinator.

Ultimately, EMRs give medical facilities the opportunity to improve all of their service through automation – reducing the time required to check and re-check a patient’s records for accuracy, the time required to track down a paper file and the time required to process paperwork. This will give them more time to provide quality patient care and medical analysis.

If a hospital or health practice is to function as a business, it has to be fast, accurate and efficient. All of the work that’s done there is extremely important. Staff should be free to use the bulk of their time working with patients rather than sorting through records or on the phone with billing departments. EMRs, if implemented correctly, mean letting the machines do the work with secure, reliable automation. It also means that patients can get more face-to-face time with their providers. It’s just a matter of treating meaningful use like any business implementation.

About the author

Jeff Rauscher, director of Solutions Design for Redwood Software, has more than 31 years of diversified MIS/IT experience working with a wide variety of technologies, including SAP, HP, IBM and many others. Learn more at