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New ACP Study Examines Advantages and Pitfalls of Converting Physician Office Operations to Electronic Format

(Washington, DC): The ACP released a discussion paper today which examines key issues internists should consider when converting their medical records to an electronic format.

"The Paperless Medical Office: Digital Technology's Potential for the Internist" identifies the benefits offered to physicians by converting their entire office operations to an electronic format, as well as the concerns physicians should consider before beginning the process.

A paperless office integrates electronic health records (EHRs) with physician practice management and patient scheduling software. It can enhance the quality of care by providing instant access to patient health data from any location with a computer and Internet access.

To fully benefit from this new technology the entire U.S. health care system must be wired to send and receive all patient information in a digital format-and in a language that is common and accepted by all providers. This process, called interoperability, is the subject of another ACP policy paper "Enhancing the Quality of Patient Care Through Interoperable Exchange of Electronic Health Care Information."

The ACP paperless office report examines important start-up costs and obstacles that the internist should consider including:

  • The cost of purchasing and/or upgrading hardware and new software.
  • The time and cost of system testing and customization before implementing new EHR and practice management software.
  • The cost of designing and building or redesigning and renovating the office's physical layout to accommodate a paperless operation.
  • The cost and time of training staff to use new EHR and practice management software and related updated office protocols.
  • The time and cost for existing practices to upload paper medical records into an electronic medical record format.
  • Short-term loss of productivity and practice revenue while the new system is being installed and debugged and staff are learning new software and office protocols.
  • Some of the key factors involved in achieving a successful conversion to a digitally based operation include:
  • Having at least one strong physician proponent of the new system.
  • Making sure you purchase a system suited to the practice's physicians.
  • Selecting software vendors with proven track records and the expertise, staffing, and financial foundation needed for a longtime commitment.

"The universal use of EHRs will create a quantum leap in the quality of patient care," said ACP President Munsey Wheby, MD, FACP. "ACP plans to be a leader in this vital area."

The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician group in the United States. ACP members include more than 115,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internists specialize in the prevention, detection and treatment of illnesses in adults.

Jack Pope, (202) 261-4556, jpope@acponline.org
Jacquelyn Blaser, (202) 261-4572, jblaser@acponline.org

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