EMR System Saves Money for Imaging Center

The digital age has transformed radiology over the past decade, but paperless operations in the administrative realm are still elusive for many practices. Switching over to an electronic medical records (EMR) system can be filled with daunting choices.

EMR systems are not technically mandatory under provisions of the recent federal stimulus bill, but practices that fail to go electronic could miss out on incentives and/or receive some penalties in the future. Officials at the Advanced Imaging Center (AIC) in Schererville, Ind, knew that EMRs were crucial, and when they began searching for new document management software, they called on Larry Mlynarcik for help.

In his role as practice manager for AIC, Mlynarcik sat down with the medical director (a radiologist) and considered cost, ease of use, necessary equipment, and goals. “We tested three systems and decided that CNG [Cabinet NG Inc, Madison, Ala] was a good fit,” said Mlynarcik, who also serves as president of Custom Data Services, Merrillville, Ind. “The overall annual expense was minimal, and AIC was able to save money and productivity on paper and labor costs after getting out of the manual system.”

Mlynarcik ultimately passed on other excellent systems that were more suited to larger practices. Now medical records are in the system and accessible to the billing staff, radiology technicians, and radiologists. “When patients walk into the clinic, they are walking in with a piece of paper that came from their referring doctor,” said Mlynarcik. “Front counter staff members have to say, ‘How are you going to pay for this?’ Patients show their driver’s licenses and insurance ID cards, so just getting all of that into the computer system now has started the process of getting that information to the technicians.”

When the patient walks into the back, the prescription and paperwork are available electronically. Once the image is taken, it goes to the radiologist where the data is all integrated with the existing PACS system. “In the past, it had to be in a file folder and had to be passed from person to person,” adds Mlynarcik. “All of that now is automatic, and when the patient is done, the information goes to billing where they have access to the prescription, the dictated report, and the billing data. We have gone full circle without touching a piece of paper and that is more efficient.”

A billing agency 10 miles away that supplements AIC’s office staff can now access this same data through a secure HIPAA-compliant Internet portal. The agency ensures that patients and/or insurance companies are billed properly and that the radiology practice is paid in a timely manner.

With reduced labor costs, there is no longer a need to hire additional staff to keep track of patient charts. Instead, AIC was able to reduce filing staff by at least 1.5 full-time employees—which adds up to about $35K in annual savings.

Additional savings include the cost of filing cabinets, paper, ink, and other office supplies that are no longer needed. “It is a wonderful system that has really helped us control our billing and receipts, keeping our costs and expenses down in an environment that continues to experience reduced revenue,” said Mlynarcik. “Small clinics can really go out of business if they don’t go to this step, because you can’t continue to conduct business via paper. You just can’t afford it.”

— Greg Thompson

KLAS Looks at Informatics Trends

Every year, health care research firm KLAS releases a list of its “Best in KLAS” rankings for countless products used in the health care market including RIS, PACS, MRI, EMR, and CT. The company, intent on providing fair, critical analysis of these products to health care providers, collects dozens of surveys on each product through various means in order to achieve an unbiased perspective on health care solutions.

The company compiles data in three ways. First, it asks vendors and manufacturers for client lists so that KLAS can speak with the users directly. KLAS will also use this list of contacts to get information on other products, providing a more comprehensive perspective on a company’s offerings. Finally, customers can come directly to the KLAS Web site and submit surveys and evaluations electronically.

With data that are this widespread, KLAS is able to track trends not only in a specific company’s portfolio but also throughout the industry as a whole.

“In the hospital RIS market, I think you’re seeing that integrated EMR strategy—single-vendor strategy—a little bit more pronounced, and it’s become more mature over the last 2 to 5 years,” said Ben Brown, general manager, medical imaging and medical equipment research, KLAS. “Especially in the last 2 years, the whole idea of integration or a single vendor from the EMR down to ancillaries is a more and more common theme with hospital administrations. If a hospital can use all of Cerner, all of MEDITECH, all of GE, all of Siemens, all of Epic, for example, there tends to be a preference to do that, which resonates through the RIS market as well.

“Those are a couple of the dynamics that I’ve seen on the RIS side. But more and more integration, whether it’s EMR/RIS integration or RIS/PACS integration, those are a couple of big priorities that we’re seeing on the provider side that’s become more involved in the last couple of years,” he said.

In the PACS market, Brown cites increasingly prevalent acquisitions as the source of the most change. Mergers from large manufacturers like GE Healthcare, McKesson, and Merge Healthcare have all significantly changed the PACS field. Merge, for example, is trying to balance five different PACS systems in its portfolio due to mergers and hopes to eventually migrate their various customers onto one consolidated platform.

— Chris Gaerig