5 ways to turn your EHR cost center into a revenue generator

The future looks erratic for small primary care practices with 10 doctors or fewer, according to one recent report. In fact, more than a quarter of those surveyed by MDLinx could foresee themselves closing up shop within the next year.

"Declining reimbursements and rising overhead costs, as usual, are to blame," said Steven Ferguson, patient management officer at Hello Health. "So what is a doctor in a small independent practice to do? One place to start looking for solutions is their in-practice technology stack – starting with their EHR.

"Yes, the EHR," Ferguson continued. "Long considered to be that unfortunate cost center that doctors have had to grin and bear, or try to avoid completely. But what if we changed that paradigm? What if we turned a cost center into a revenue center? Most doctors don’t believe us, but it’s something we’ve been doing successfully in a growing number of practices."

Ferguson outlined five ways to leverage your EHR and increase topline revenue.

1. Patient subscriptions. According to Ferguson, doctors and their front office, back office, PAs, and billers all have access to the EHR. "In fact, it's required for them," he said. "But what about the patients? Aren’t they kind of important in this circle of care? Shouldn't they be connected to the practice as well? Wouldn't it make sense for the practice to communicate with them using today's tools?" Ferguson added that there is a way to both achieve this and generate new revenue for a practice. "Doctors, after all, are to provide a new service with new benefits, so patients won't mind paying a few cents a day – and voila, new revenue."

[See also: EHR adoption still a top concern for physician practices.]

2. Referral to specialists. "Primary care doctors are, in many ways, the gatekeepers to the larger healthcare system," said Ferguson. "They make a lot of initial diagnoses and then refer patients to specialists for everything from glaucoma to gout." The referral process, he said, places an administrative burden on the referring physician. "If the correct information doesn't get into the correct hands, then more work has to be done to get all the information squared away," he added. A solution? Having the ability to share referral information in a timely manner. "The benefit to the specialist is a cleaner hand-off when new patients are referred into the practice, which means less administrative back and forth with the referring physician's staff."

3. Chart requests from insurers. Life insurance companies must request patient charts for claim purposes regularly, said Ferguson, and a busy practice could see multiple requests a month. "This [also] creates an administrative burden on the primary care doctor," he said. "In the future, requests of this sort should be transactional in nature." Doctors should be reimbursed for their time and effort required to produce a correct and complete chart in a timely manner, he continued, and the EHR should help facilitate those transactions. "The benefit to the insurer is faster access to a more complete chart. For the doctor, it means they get paid for the administrative work," he said.

4. Virtual pharma lunch. Typically, a pharma company spends big bucks to send a representative door-to-door, while the doctor rarely has time to spend listening to the rep. "Why not migrate these inefficient, in-person visits to efficient virtual visits?" asked Ferguson. "Reps could simply schedule 10 minutes with the doctor and take care of business through a video visit. Why not have the big pharma companies pay for access to a secure system that integrates seamlessly into the practice's calendar?"

[See also: EHR Association weighs in on Stage 2.]

5. Meaningful use. The HITECH money being paid out, said Ferguson has reached the $3 billion mark and continues to grow. "With the right EHR and some guidance, many providers can collect this money," he said. "Your EHR should provide a way to track your progress toward meeting the MU criteria." Some providers have taken it a step further, he continued, and can provide consulting services to help you claim your fair share of the federally allocated money. "We see the service as a big plus to our doctors who are already busy running their businesses," he said.