The main objective behind the federal government’s initiative to provide incentives to push hospitals and physicians to use electronic health records (EHR) was to improve efficiency and patient safety thereby reducing total healthcare costs. Inappropriate use of the EHR system has been a strong concern since 2012 with the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services alerting hospitals about the wrong use of this system. Hospitals that used this system were billing Medicare for a significantly more amount than hospitals using paper records. They were charging higher for a large number of expensive procedures.
However, a recent study reveals that there is no need to worry about hospitals using their new electronic health records to make huge medical bills and boost their income.
As part of the study, researchers compared the medical billing records of about 393 hospitals using an EMR system with 782 other hospitals still using paper billing format. The hospitals compared were in line with each other in terms of size and status.
While analyzing the inpatient records (of those patients who spent at least one night in the hospital), it was found that the EHR system did not make a considerable change in the billing practices.
However, Dr. Donald Simborg, a pioneer in the field of electronic health records, says that the ERs and outpatient clinics of which an increasing number are owned or run by hospitals are the real areas of concern.
Physicians in emergency rooms and outpatient clinics are using digital record keeping tools that prompt them to over-document. Physicians could accidentally document procedures that were not provided to patients. Generally, electronic records that automatically enter standard protocols for certain type of procedures or visits like a well-child check or a Medicare annual physical help physicians to be more efficient. However, doctors can end up generating a higher bill if they don’t delete things that they do not perform during a visit. There are even systems that suggest methods as to how to modify patient visits thereby allowing physicians to charge more.
The survey results emphasize the need for federal regulators to focus more on this aspect and create guidelines to reduce the inappropriate use of EMR systems to create higher medical bills. On-going vigilance needs to be implemented against the inappropriate use of electronic health records.