A place to look for help

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Robert C. Davis, CEO, Optimus EMR Inc.
Robert C. Davis, CEO, Optimus EMR Inc.
There is little doubt that these are difficult times for long-term care providers. Margins are tight, new regulations are constantly emerging, and staff turnover is a chronic problem. Given these and other challenges, it's more important that operators carefully manage every aspect of care delivery and overall operations.

While new technology tools are no substitute for sound execution, they can certainly help. In fact, by adopting technology-driven options such as electronic health records, operators can become more efficient while improving care delivery. As you ponder your road ahead, here are some places where it may be advisable to consider this new business partner.

Workflow re-engineering
Many operators are still using paper-based charts instead of electronic medical records. This is a significant handicap to their ability to recognize and react to changes.

The industry's current condition and future changes demand that its members gain efficiencies and determine where their gaps and weaknesses are. This should determine the logical/mandatory workflow changes.

A top-to-bottom analysis of all clinical activities and record keeping, including billing functions, should be completed to take advantage of the strengths and capabilities of a good EHR system. If done correctly and fully, this exercise should result in a complete restructuring of these functions.

The goal should be to have improved patient care through better patient information that is accessible to all appropriate staff and management in real time.

Proper adoption
Many healthcare providers assume that spending more money on staff equals better care. However, we have repeatedly seen that it is more effective to focus instead on spending an amount that efficiently produces the best care. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the healthcare industry has been slow in adopting proven, efficient technologies.

It is no longer possible to produce good results and the desired patient outcomes without technology, which includes interoperability. Both paper-based recordkeeping and substandard EMR systems are a severe handicap to patient care and efficient operations in today's healthcare environment.

Paper-based systems and poorly designed EMRs do not provide proper alerts, warnings and other desirable management tools.

The proper tools being implemented without complete training and follow-up will produce less than the desired results. Management must be active at all levels to accomplish full adoption, and the attendant culture change that is required for complete results.

That noted, there is no substitute for complete and appropriate training to accomplish the desired goals and revised workflow.

It is generally accepted in the industry that there is a significant return on investment for adopting technologies in long-term care — if the technology is implemented and used correctly. Inadequate and poorly accessible information is a barrier to success.

Care transitions
Patients move frequently from one provider setting to another, which increases the challenge of moving a patient's valuable information with the patient. By all accounts, this will become even more common as accountable care organizations take hold in the coming years. Providers must be able to share patient information to improve accuracy and the speed of information flow.

Additionally, we have seen that data sharing is not feasible with paper-based systems or poorly designed EMRs. Fortunately, these functions have been incorporated and anticipated in the design of fully functional EHR systems.

Patient-centric info
Patient-centered care is the desired goal. But it is very difficult to manage each patient's individual needs without an efficient care tool or plan that is easily modified and adapted to the changes in the patient's requirements.

After all, the patient is the primary recipient and beneficiary of good care.

Stakeholders should realize this: A care plan that is strong, robust and accessible by all caregivers at every point of care is vitally important.

Care plans with built-in task lists, reminders, accountability, and alerts available in real time should be the standard of care for an electronic health records system.

If there is one thing everyone  can agree on, it is that LTC residents deserve the best care possible. But as payments are being trimmed, meeting that goal is tougher than ever. Fortunately, new technology tools can help improve care and the bottom line.

Given the many critical issues at stake, the question is not whether providers can afford to embrace these new options. Rather, the question is this: How can providers expect to survive if they don't?