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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 6/17/13

June 17, 2013 Dr. Jayne No Comments

Over the last month or so, I’ve become a frequent flyer patient at an orthopedic surgery practice. It’s been kind of fun because it’s a practice I rotated at when I was a resident. They’re also part of a local IPA and I’m able to see the workings of our competition.

I have to suspend the process redesign part of my brain when I go there because there are some office processes that drive me crazy. I’m amazed that they’re operating this way in 2013 and am hopeful that Meaningful Use will give them a kick start.

At this week’s visit, a sign appeared announcing they’re preparing to implement EHR, so it was hard not to make observations. One of my running buddies is part of the IPA, so I’ve heard her side of how the system is being rolled out. It doesn’t look like they’re taking lessons learned from one practice and carrying them to the others. I’m pretty familiar with their EHR vendor and I hope they’re not surprised when this practice isn’t successful, because what I saw was not pretty. If you haven’t implemented yet either, you might take some of this as a cautionary tale. Here is the recap.

With the market consolidation going on and the concessions vendors are willing to give to ensure a sale, does it make sense to keep a practice management system from a different vendor than your EHR? What about if the PM vendor is notorious for sunsetting products? The EHR vendor also has a practice management system, and in a lot of ways the PM system is stronger than the EHR. I know from my buddy that the vendor offered to throw in the PM system nearly free, but the IPA was concerned about a conversion. Instead, they thought creating a unidirectional interface from the PM to the EHR was a much better idea. The providers will continue to operate on paper fee tickets even after EHR is live.

It might be a good idea to optimize the practice management workflow and office processes before implementing EHR. Although they are strong at scanning the insurance card at every visit, they are still hand-writing receipts in a duplicate book. I would have thought they were on downtime procedures if I didn’t see it five times in a row. They have a credit card swipe device attached to the monitor at check-in (good) but the printer is 25 feet away on a back desk and they have to get up and walk to get the receipt for signature (bad). They then hand-write the co-pay receipt.

The credit card receipt doesn’t even have the practice name or show that it’s a co-pay. On three of four visits, they forgot to write co-pay on the paper receipt, and because their paper receipts doesn’t have the practice name either, patients can’t submit them for reimbursement from flexible spending accounts.

The staff then has to manually staple the top copy to the patient credit card receipt and the bottom copy to the patient demographic sheet, which they didn’t ask me to verify at any visit. On three of three post-procedure visits, they also collected a co-pay during the global period, which they had better be cheerfully refunding to me once I receive my Explanation of Benefits statements. Based on the chaos at the office, it seemed easier at the time just to pay it than to delay my visit with a discussion since I was juggling my appointments around my work schedule.

There are doors at each end of the large L-shaped waiting room to the patient care areas. They don’t warn patients as to which side their physician is working, and the employees don’t speak loud enough to be heard around the corner of the L (or over the loud televisions) when they call patients. This results in delays because patients can’t hear that they’ve been called and take longer to get to the door on crutches or in a wheelchair because they’re waiting on the wrong side.

Check-out is at the same desk as check-in (although with two separate lines), so there is constant competition between getting patients in and out. Each time I was offered a follow-up that was at least a week later than what the physician recommended, and the front desk staff had to call back to the physician area to have me approved as a work-in. I wonder how many patients insist on the follow-up interval they were told versus how many just take what is offered? Where orthopedics is concerned, that can sometimes make a difference in a patient’s return to function if their cast is left on longer than intended or they don’t get timely follow up. It’s also a waste of time to require the front desk to have work-ins approved when they are approved 100 percent of the time, which I witnessed in my multiple tours through the waiting room.

Workflow in the patient care areas was actually pretty good, with smooth handoffs between the medical assistants, radiology tech, and cast techs. There was a delay with the physician, which gave me time to read the brochure about the practice’s upcoming medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic, scheduled to start three days after my most recent appointment. I’ve actually used the EHR that they’re installing, so I chatted a bit with the cast tech about it and found out they were having training that afternoon.

She mentioned they will be going live while half the office is away and that the physicians won’t attend training. Instead, employees will attend he training and then train the physicians when they returned. I shuddered a little at what a terrible idea this is. Although train-the-trainer programs can work, it does take time to develop solid training competency and enough understanding of the software to be able to train it. Expecting front line staff to be able to train their physicians after a single round of training and only a week of real-world experience is not a good idea.

Scheduling a go-live when half the office is out is not the best idea, as those physicians going live will have to cover emergencies and other office tasks for those away. Expecting the rest of the practice to go live the week they return from being out is a disaster in the making, given the existing backlog and wait for patient appointments and the fact that they’re always double (and triple) booking. It’s not as if they didn’t know this trip was coming since they’ve been fundraising for it for six months based on the date of the brochure.

On the way out, I noticed the staff in a conference room, huddled around tablet PCs and going through training. What a way to spend a Friday afternoon! I’m scheduled for a follow-up the week of the second round of go-live, so it should be interesting. I have an add-on appointment at the end of the day, which guarantees it will be good for at least one story. I can’t wait to see their workflow for EHR or how well their train-the-trainer plan went. Stay tuned!

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