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by Kelly McCormick

With the precipitous drop in procedure volume and missed revenue resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever before to improve efficiency in gastroenterology (GI) practices. Turning to an electronic health records (EHR) is one of the best ways to make any endoscopy unit more efficient.

By 2017, 86 percent of physicians in the United States had adopted some form of EHR, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). There are a number of reasons for this widespread adoption of EHRs. EHR systems can help gastroenterologists provide better, safer care to their patients, for example, by providing accurate, up-to-date patient information at the point of care, enable quick access to patient records, and securely sharing electronic information with patients and other providers. EHRs can also help clinicians diagnose patients more effectively, decrease medical errors, and provide safer care. Using electronic records can facilitate interaction and communication between patient and provider in a convenient way.

EHR systems can also provide tangible benefits to gastroenterology units. They allow for safer, more reliable prescribing, for example, and enhance security and privacy of patient data. Using electronic systems helps promote complete and legible documentation along with accurate, streamlined billing and coding, and helps protect endoscopy units from regulatory/compliance issues. EHR systems reduce cost by decreasing paperwork, improving safety, reducing the need for duplicate testing, and improving health. These benefits improve efficiency, boost productivity, support a healthy work-life balance, and help endoscopy units meet their business goals.

Selecting a Gastroenterology EHR System in 6 Easy Steps

1. Determine your current and near-future practice size

Software engineers design EHR software to suit the number and type of users, often with scalability in mind. In other words, some EHR software is for small practices that might add a couple of gastroenterologists over the next few years while other software is for very large practices that expect to grow by dozens or even hundreds of doctors over time. For best results, select software that is appropriate for the number of gastroenterologists in your practice.

2. Pick your preferred systems architecture

Decide where you want to install the software and store the data. Client-server programs sit on-site at the practice, whereas cloud-based and software-as-a-service (SaaS) systems save information off-site on “the cloud” or on remote servers. Gastroenterologists concerned about HIPAA compliance may prefer client-server software because it allows them to control all the data on their systems; on the downside, these systems require periodic maintenance and upgrades that might slow their practice down. Gastroenterologists who want to make the data available to physicians, practice managers, and other authorized staff via the internet may prefer cloud-based systems; however, these systems require a reliable, high quality internet connection.

3. Check for certification

Look for EHR tested and certified by an ONC-Authorized Testing and Certification Body (“ONC-ATCB”). The ONC establishes EMR certification standards and certifies vendor EHR products. ONC-ATCB certification ensures that the software has met required Meaningful Use (“MU”) measures and objectives. Using a certified system can help your practice receive up to $63,750 in MU Medicaid and up to $44,000 in Medicare incentives for adopting an EHR, and avoid penalties for failing to adopt one.

4. Assess your EHR needs

Identify the specific health record needs of your gastroenterology practice. Standardized, template-based reporting is commonplace, which means they tend to be a one-size-fits-all-practices approach to record keeping.

Fortunately, software designed specifically for gastroenterology practices exist. This software deals with the unique characteristics of diagnosing and treating conditions occurring in the digestive system. For example, gastroenterologists rely heavily on endoscopy and ultrasounds to monitor and detect abnormalities of the GI system, so their EHR software should have the capacity to integrate with endoscopic and ultrasound devices and software. The EHR system should be able to receive and analyze the data generated from each patient’s lab and imaging tests. Clinicians caring for patients with time-sensitive or life-threatening conditions should look for EHRs that feature an alert system that sends them appropriate emergency notifications.

5. Determine the features most important to your practice

Gastroenterology is quite different from other specialties and each GI clinic is unique; the features of an electronic health record system should reflect the individual nature of the practice. Having all the bells and whistles available may benefit endoscopy units that see a wide variety of patients and perform the entire gamut of procedures, for example, but may bog down a smaller or more specialized practice.

Some features that may be important to all practices include:

  • ICD/CPT codes specific to gastroenterology
  • Integration with endoscopy equipment
  • Ability to manage endoscopy images
  • Comprehensive list of GI medications including drug interaction alerts

Other features may include:

  • Capability to feed specific disease registries, such as hepatitis or colon cancer registries
  • Order sets unique to hospital inpatient care or home/ambulatory care

6. Look for customizable templates pre-designed specifically for gastroenterology EHR

Customizable software is the hallmark of a great EHR system. Gastroenterology EHR vendors offer a variety of pre-designed templates tailored for different conditions, such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Diverticulitis
  • Gallbladder problems
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Hepatitis
  • Incontinence
  • UTI

9. Compare gastroenterology EHR software

There is a dizzying array of EHR systems currently available for gastroenterology practices. These health record systems include EndoSoft (EndoSoft), CORI v4 (Clinical Outcomes Resarch Initiative), EndoPRO iQ (Pentax Medical), gGastro (Modernizing Medicine), MD-Reports (now by Provation), ProVation MD (ProVation Medical), and eMerge Endo (eMerge Health Solutions), among many others. Each has its own advantages, features, and drawbacks.

10. Ask around

Nothing can replace real-world experience when it comes to choosing an electronic health record for your gastroenterology practice. Read reviews, for example, and reach out to other GI practices to learn their experiences. Be sure to compare costs between the various platforms to ensure that your EHR is the most cost-effective choice for your practice.

Choosing an electronic health record system may seem daunting at first glance; breaking it down into smaller steps can help your practice move from old-fashioned paper records to a safe, efficient EHR, even these turbulent times of COVID-19.