Nothing screams “save me!” like an office overwhelmed by towering stacks of patient charts, shredder bins, and rows upon rows of filing cabinets. When we became PTs, paper documentation wasn’t necessarily on our “fun” lists, but we did it happily, because we finally had the dream career we worked so hard for (and because there was no other option). But let’s face it: we have since tossed the happily aside and now despise paper charting and all the ink stains, paper cuts, and illegibility that goes along with it. Not to mention that now paper isn’t our only option.
Yes, I’m talking about electronic medical record (EMR) systems. Of course, there are reasons beyond eliminating paper cuts and chicken scratch-induced headaches for physical therapists to switch from paper to EMR. Here are four:
EMR systems—cloud-based ones to be specific—empower you to provide better customer service to your patients. Because EMRs allow you to document more efficiently (from anywhere at anytime on any web-enabled device), you can devote more time to your patients. Plus, with an EMR, there is no misplacing charts or scratching your head over illegible marks. You can easily access and review data, so you spend more time on treatment rather than review. Another perk? You’ll look way more high-tech wielding an iPad, tablet, or laptop rather than a manila folder or clipboard. Patients seem to dig that.
In addition to helping you provide better service to your patients, EMR companies actually provide supreme service, too. You’re never relying solely on your own charting know-how. You get an entire team of tech wizards at the ready. Plus, EMRs have alerts and measures in place to help you document defensibly, and the best EMRs offer unlimited phone support and templated customization so your SOAP notes suit your needs. Stacks of paper, illegible handwriting, and wonky Word templates ain’t got nothin’ on this.
As I stated in my introduction, offices in the throes of paper documentation need saving, and so does your productivity! Cut the clutter and give your office some much needed feng shui by transitioning all your documentation into a digital system. With a complete EMR and practice management solution, you’ll be able to find all the information you could ever need—about your clinic, your staff, your patients, your plans of care, your productivity—no binders or cabinets needed. Plus, with an EMR, there’s no double data entry; you only have to enter your patient’s information (patient name, diagnosis code, referrer info, etc.) once and the system carries it over appropriately.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need alerts; we wouldn’t need reminders; and we certainly wouldn’t need sleep. But we’re human, and as therapists, our caseloads aren’t getting any lighter. We make mistakes; we forget things; and we get overwhelmed. As I mentioned under “Service,” many EMR systems have a alerts and reminders in place to make sure you document defensibly—not to control how you document, but to help you stay compliant. And, with the increase in defensible documentation regulations, an EMR can help you keep up with the onslaught of changes so you can focus on treating your patients. Think of it like having a knowledgeable sidekick. Paper can’t do all that.
Furthermore, EMRs also increase accountability because they don’t allow for the deletion of notes. That’s a big no-no in the realm of documentation, and if you’re ever audited, you’ll be thankful your EMR empowered you to create an addendum, rather than crumple up the paper and pitch it.
Referrals, both from physicians and patients, are a huge part of our business, and with that said, we all know first impressions—from your website and business cards to your office decor and your documentation—matter immensely. From a patient’s perspective, what image are you projecting when you’re flipping through crumpled, scribbled charts or hunting around your front desk for several minutes attempting to locate a working pen? An EMR, especially when paired with practice management tools, keeps you organized and therefore looking much more professional.
From the physician side of the referral coin, EMRs help you make every interaction with them count. With your EMR, you can quickly and electronically interact with physicians (who are all mandated to use electronic medical records by 2014). In addition to being delivered speedily, your notes will feature your clinic’s logo. Talk about brand awareness. Clean and professional documentation and a logo? Now that’s staying top of mind.
There you have it: Service, Organization, Accountability, and Professionalism. Turn that into an acronym and you got “SOAP,” as in SOAP notes: the foundation of your documentation and ultimately the main reason why you should make the switch to an EMR. With the decrease in reimbursements, the increase of regulations, and the overall competitive nature of the profession, you need tools to help you be better in business while staying compliant and crafting clean, detailed, and goal-oriented SOAP notes. You can’t achieve all that paper charting. Isn’t it time you elevated your practice?
About the Author
Heidi Jannenga, PT, MPT, ATC/L
Heidi was a scholarship athlete at the University of California, Davis. Following a knee injury and subsequent successful rehabilitation, Heidi developed a passion for physical therapy. She started her 16-year physical therapy career after graduating with her Masters from the Institute of Physical Therapy in St. Augustine, Florida.
In 2008, Heidi and her husband Brad launched WebPT, the leading web-based Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and comprehensive practice management service for physical therapists. As the company’s COO, Heidi is responsible for product development/management, billing services, and customer support.
She now resides in Phoenix with Brad and their daughter Ava.