Top 4 ways an EHR can drive evidence-based practice

Evidence-based practice has become essential in the medical field. Now, more than ever, practicing on a hunch simply doesn’t cut it. Evidence-based practice allows you to prove that what you do in your clinic actually works. And, because many insurers require proof prior to claim reimbursement, it can also mean a better bottom line.

Practicing evidence-based care doesn’t have to be cumbersome, and you can use your EHR to accomplish this goal. Here are four ways an EHR can help you achieve evidence-based practice in your clinic, all without sacrificing your focus on patient care.

[See also: EHR adoption rises at solo and two-physician practices.]

1. Digitally document for the bigger picture
Digitally documenting all your patients’ valuable data in one place means you have a clear, holistic picture of treatment results and successes. EHR systems allow you to ensure documentation is consistent, but it’s only as good as the consistency of the practitioners. EHRs are not just a dumping ground for data, but a tool to be used to improve practice. This is especially crucial for multi-practitioner clinics looking to adopt common methodologies and run a tight administrative ship. Achieving consistency in digital documentation means that practitioners have deeper, more accurate visibility into each patient’s treatment history. Instead of relying on multiple paper records, practitioners can rely on full, factual records to tell the whole patient story and thus make better treatment decisions. Expansive digital documentation reduces the possibility of miscommunication with insurers and other practitioners.

2. Validate via proof
What and how much insurance companies are willing to cover is often a muddled, gray area practitioners must navigate warily. Because regulations vary by insurer, it’s imperative that practitioners maintain consistent records with enough detail to substantiate treatments they administer to patients. While some insurance companies are willing to cover or reimburse certain procedures and remedies, many are requiring more and more proof that these courses of action are essential and not merely elective or experimental. Similar to a court of law, insurance providers want to see proof. And proof must come in the form of carefully gathered records showing — and not just telling — precisely why a patient needs to proceed with the recommended options, also known as medical necessity. Through an EHR, the evidence is presented in an organized and compelling manner to insurance companies, which results in a heightened chance of approval for coverage. In a time when healthcare reimbursements are shrinking and frugality is the name of the game, any action that can lead to more reimbursements is critical.

3. Improve treatment
An evidence-based practice is the perfect foundation for determining which methodologies really work and collecting the aforementioned proof to act as confirmation. Through use of an EHR, you are better equipped to track variables, outcomes and treatment plans — both current and future. All of these measurements offer further insight into which methods serve your patients best, thus allowing you to better achieve evidence-based practice.

The EHR can also help clinics identify trends in treatment results. If your clinic prescribes the same treatment for every patient presenting a shoulder injury, for example, you will soon (depending on your patient caseload) have enough data to determine through substantial facts whether or not that treatment is a success or a failure. Clearer visibility into this collection of data and progress of the patient gives practitioners the tools they need to deliver the highest level of patient care. As an added bonus, the time practitioners save using an EHR for their documentation translates into increased time they can spend with patients.

4. Share and collaborate
Once you’ve identified the treatment plans or practice tools you’ve found to be successful, share them. It’s no longer necessary to go through a lengthy journal submission process to get the word out in a credible way about the progress you’ve made so other practitioners can benefit as well. In fact, you can just take your findings to a blog, a 140-character tweet or an online forum. The improved ability to share information and collect data impacts the speed at which research can be completed.  Many EHRs even make it easy to safely and compliantly share data among practitioners involved in a particular patient’s care, so each practitioner can make fully informed decisions on behalf of that patient. Interoperability, the ease of sharing records through EHR, and the speed at which practitioners can achieve this, are positive steps that show the continual improvements within the healthcare industry. No matter the method, it’s important and easier than ever to get your research out there, start a discussion and get evidence-based feedback from your peers.

[See also: EHR systems trending to mesh with physician work habits.]

Ultimately, evidence-based practice is better for the clinic, the practitioner and the patient. And with today’s EHR systems, it’s easier for everyone to get on board and up their game. Where do you stand on evidence-based, scientifically proven practice?

As chief operating officer for WebPT, Heidi Jannenga is responsible for sales, product management and customer support. As a co-founder of the company, she has led the vision for the company's web-based physical therapy software and all aspects of customer engagement. Heidi has been a practicing physical therapist for over 15 years and continues to complete patient care daily in Tempe, Ariz., splitting her time between clinical practice and WebPT. Her PT specialties include extremity post surgical rehabilitation, ACL prevention programs, and sport specific training.