For the past several years, most medical practices have invested in technology to enable the transfer and storage of their patient’s health records into an electronic format. This effort, “encouraged” by the large healthcare payers was instigated to make the record-keeping more efficient. It was also seen as a way for patient health conditions to be available to physicians in an emergency situation, where the patient might be unconscious or otherwise incapacitated.
Texas Back Institute completed the process of transferring their physician records to an electronic format and this effort was led by Cheryl Zapata, together with the IT and Management team, Chief Development Officer at the clinic. She has first-hand knowledge of whether this massive effort has paid off in terms of efficiency and patient welfare.
Has it been worth the Effort?
“It hasn’t completely paid off yet,” Cheryl noted. “The new systems have required the physicians to become acclimated with getting the patients through the clinic-flow differently. For example, there are draw-backs in terms of the amount of time it takes a physician to document the patient’s treatment.”
“However, I believe there will be a pay-off very soon,” she said. “We started collecting our data related to outcomes and those are very difficult to collect unless you have a robust electronic data collection system in place. So, we may not quite be in a place where the investment has completely paid off, but I can see us being there in the next couple of years. When we reach this point, I can see this being extremely beneficial for our practice and for public health in general.”
More Patients are Getting Involved with Their Healthcare and Their Health Records
According to several national publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the increase in the number of electronic medical records and healthcare history has encouraged more patients to become more actively involved with their healthcare. This begs the question: is this a positive or negative turn of events?
“Anytime a patient is actively involved with their treatment and on-going healthcare, it is absolutely more positive,” Cheryl noted. “Patients need to be informed, not only about what is going on with their bodies, but what their treatment options are. When a patient is well-informed, they make better decisions and tend to be happier with their overall treatment.”
Are the patients who want to be actively involved in the healthcare and health records older, younger or equally distributed among all ages?
“They’re really all over the board,” she noted. “We have patients of all ages who want to have their electronic health records protected and get more actively involved in their treatment.”
Challenges of Maintaining Electronic Health Records
Some Texas Back Institute patients prefer to pay for treatment directly, rather than getting approval and subsequent payments from their health insurance provider. These patients prefer to have their treatment, which is covered by insurance, segregated from the treatment they pay for out of pocket.
Because all treatment is documented in these electronic health records, are there any challenges when a patient prefers to keep out-of-pocket expenses private?
“There are a lot of challenges particularly as it relates to protecting certain pieces of information,” she said. “You have the ability to have electronic records locked or unlocked. Most electronic medical records do not allow you to lock or unlock a part of the record. In a situation where a patient wants to protect records for treatment which have been paid for in cash, while other treatments may have been covered by insurance, it is a challenge to segregate the records associated with those different payment options.”
“It’s a tedious process when medical records are being protected for one reason or another,” she said. “There are other ways of protecting these records, but we’ve found the best way to protect them is to physically lock the records. This way anyone who wants to access the records must physically unlock them.”
As someone who is on the “front lines” of the healthcare business, Cheryl Zapata has seen many changes in the way it is managed. As such, she is a good barometer as to the biggest changes consumers can expect in the future…especially how it will be paid for.
“The biggest change I see coming is a focus on outcomes,” she said. “Healthcare won’t just be driven by costs but also on the treatment outcomes of medical providers.”
“Right now, it seems insurance carriers are focused on payments – how much does a given treatment cost,” she said. “While this is important, I would suggest strong positive outcomes of medical providers and ultimately better care to patients is more important. Watching and measuring that outcomes data is going to be one of the most important trends in the coming years.”
Becoming actively involved in your healthcare is encouraged by the spine specialists at Texas Back Institute. The more you know, the better. If you or a family member is experiencing back pain, contact us, for an examination or consultation.