How to Keep Costs Down in an EHR Implementation

October 4, 2016 by Antonio Arias, MBA, CHBME

Topics: Medical Billing, Practice Management, Medical Billing Company

Even as the healthcare industry grows more and more driven by – and welcoming of – technological change, there are plenty of doctors holding onto their paper-based processes for as long as they can. The hardest thing to give up: Those trusted manila-folder medical records.

Though the industry-wide shift to electronic health records was incentivized by the U.S. government through the HITECH Act (and its Meaningful Use criteria), many doctors didn’t see the HHS’ financial incentives as compelling enough to make the switch. It’s easy to understand why: EHRs can be notoriously difficult to use, involve lengthy implementation timelines, require employees to learn new processes and tools, and are typically – most importantly – very, very expensive.

In 2014, 73 percent of doctors who had yet to adopt an electronic health record (EHR) said the cost of purchasing an electronic system was the biggest barrier. Annual maintenance costs were another major barrier for 46 percent of those surveyed by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC).

Two years later, high EHR costs continue to make headlines: In its financial statements for the first half of 2016, executives of ProMedica – a health system based in Toledo, Ohio – said their $1.9 million operating loss was “primarily driven by significant expenses due to the implementation of the Epic electronic health record launch.”

The overall estimated financial impact of the Epic launch for ProMedica’s twelve hospitals in the first six months of 2016 was $19 million. Of course, most healthcare entities don’t have twelve hospitals to equip; for office-based physicians, the typical cost of an EHR implementation ranges between $15,000 and $70,000 per provider.

Why such a broad range? Because costs vary widely depending on a practice’s patient load, needs, specialty, and more. If you’d like to keep your practice’s costs closer to the $15,000 side of the scale, keep the following best practices in mind.

Pin down your must-haves and a realistic budget before you start shopping. Costs vary so widely in the healthcare technology space that it’s vital to know what you need, what you want, what you can live without, and what you can afford... well before you start taking sales pitches. Speak with colleagues for vendor recommendations, talk to your medical billing service about what tools integrate with their system, and do extensive research before reaching out to vendors.

Consider a cloud-based solution. Hardware-bound EHRs are almost always more expensive than software-as-a-service (SaaS) or “cloud” powered systems. Cloud-based computing also means there are no costs associated with expensive in-house servers, and most solutions can integrate with the laptops, desktop computers, and mobile devices your practice already uses – no office-wide tech upgrades necessary.

Watch for hidden fees. The many “free” EHR systems on the market come with major downsides – ads, poor load times, minimal functionality, and more – so they’re worth dodging altogether. As you go through the vendor selection process, ask every prospective EHR company what they charge and when; many vendors tack on extra costs for training, support, licensing, or other things.

Make a smart choice. Know what’s more expensive than implementing your first EHR? Implementing your second EHR because you were so unhappy with the first one. Don’t let frugality over-dictate your decision-making. Make sure the system you select will support your needs, work well with your medical billing process, and help you improve efficiency office-wide over the long-term.

Working with an outsourced medical billing company can help you mitigate costs across your practice. Contact NCG Medical Billing for information on getting started.

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