Technology for the medical practice front office has many benefits. It can speed up processes, keep critical data safe from fire and flood, allow practice staff to tap resources from other organizations via the Internet, and so on. The list is long and growing. But my favorite front office technology benefit by far is the ability to eliminate duplicate effort, especially duplicate data entry. The reason is simple: eliminating duplicate effort is like money in the bank!
When you cut down on duplicate data entry, you don’t just eliminate the cost of repeating steps; you also reduce errors, which can be even more costly to find and fix. Some errors — like mistakes in patient demographics or coding — cause a direct hit to the bottom line, since they affect billing and reimbursement. Get those demographics right the first time, and your likelihood of getting paid promptly just went up — and the effort required to make it happen just went down.
There are many technology tools that medical front offices can use to reduce duplicate effort. Here are just a few that most practices should explore, if you’re not taking advantage of them already.
- EHR/PMS integration.
When a practice moves from separate billing and EHR systems, or from paper charts to an EHR that integrates with the billing/practice management system, the gain in billing efficiency is profound. An integrated EHR/PMS set-up allows physicians and other clinicians to transmit superbills electronically from the EHR into the PMS. This means no data entry of CPT and diagnosis codes from paper tickets — a huge time savings. But even more important, the data that’s transferred over to the billing system is exactly what the physician or non-physician provider intended — not what the biller guessed at based on a handwritten superbill. And if there are any doubts about the services provided or diagnosis codes, the chart note is right there in the system to provide clarification.
EHR/PMS integration means faster, more accurate billing — for faster, more reliable reimbursement. Fewer delays to clarify what’s supposed to be billed, and no risk that a biller will misinterpret handwriting or just enter something incorrectly and submit an erroneous claim as a result. Demographics are shared, too: get them entered right once and you’re good to go until (or unless) the patient’s name, address, or insurance changes.If you’re not on an integrated system and you’re contemplating switching up your PMS or EHR, put integration on your wish list of features. And if you’re not planning a change, be sure to find out if integration can be retrofitted to your current system — even if you will need to invest in development or a third party solution, creating an integrated system is an investment that will eventually pay off significantly in faster, more reliable reimbursement and increased billing capacity.
- Remote charge capture.
Do your physicians work remotely at a hospital, nursing home, or other location where they’re unable to work on your EHR and instead document charges on paper? If so, a mobile charge capture solution can be a game changer for your doctors, your billers, and your practice. These tools allow clinicians to enter charges into a smartphone or tablet, then transmit them securely to your practice management system — eliminating time-consuming writing of charges for your physicians, and the duplicate work of entering them into the system for your billers. Plus, it eliminates or greatly reduces the other big inefficiencies of paper documentation: lost tickets, forgotten charges, and illegible tickets that require costly investigation and delay reimbursement for days.
- Credit card on file.
If your patients need to pay large balances over time, your staff may be in the habit of contacting them monthly to confirm a repeated credit card charge. But if your PMS offers a PCI-compliant credit-card-on-file solution, this monthly routine can be completely automated. And that’s not just more reliable and easier for your staff, it’s more convenient for patients, too. (Plus, those pesky credit card numerals don’t have to be reentered again and again, meaning less opportunity for a typing error, too.)
The key thing to remember: you can only store credit cards if you’re using a solution that is PCI-compliant. This is absolutely essential not just to protect the charge account itself, but for HIPAA compliance, too.
A PCI-compliant solution doesn’t actually store the complete card information on your system, so there’s no way for a thief to steal it from you, even if he or she walks off with your entire server. More PMS systems are rolling out this functionality, so be sure to ask your vendor if it’s something you can tap into already. Even if it’s not a built-in feature, though, third-party software, often from clearinghouse vendors, can usually allow you to add secure credit card storage to your PMS platform. Ask your PMS vendor for a recommendation on compatible solutions.
- Online banking.
Online banking has made huge strides in recent years. Even mid-sized regional banks offer services like online bill-pay and downloadable transactions that can dramatically cut data entry and other manual processing.For example, if you’re a physician-owner who’s been signing all checks to ensure you’re aware of how much is being paid each month (a good thing), you can often set up online bill-pay so that your practice manager or bookkeeper can enter all the payment information for you, and you can simply view and approve before any amounts are disbursed. Automatic payments that are always the same, such as loan payments, rent, or mortgage, can be set up to pay each month without intervention.
Most banks now also allow all of your transaction data to be downloaded as a .csv or other file that can be imported into QuickBooks or other accounting software — dramatically cutting down on costly, tedious data-entry chores. (Since these chores are often done by your manager, they’re costly — and cutting them down allows your manager to do more valuable tasks. Plus, automating improves accuracy, further streamlining the process).