In the last five years demand for urgent care has significantly increased in the US, resulting in centers cropping up in every city and town.
A 2014 McGuireWoods and UCAA whitepaper predicted this increase in demand, as urgent care “is the lowest-cost setting for payors and one of the most convenient alternatives for patients.” Industry professionals predict growth for the urgent care industry will surge through 2019 and beyond.
That’s great for consumers, but not necessarily for the care centers themselves, who must now look for ways to stand out from the crowd.
Gone are the days of “only” being able to offer patients extended hours, including hours on weekends and holidays, and any other time someone’s family doctor wasn’t available. Since these unique selling propositions are no longer that unique, urgent care centers must find other ways to entice patients.
This is now commonly done through the “patient experience.”
Consulting firm Oliver Wyman noted in their recent survey report that 79% of consumers found care at urgent care centers about the same or better than their doctor’s office, with 11% saying their experience was far better. The authors advised provider organizations to “view this as the beginning of a fundamental reset in consumer expectations. Smart systems will leverage this to improve the patient experience.”
With patients having the control in deciding which clinic they will patronize, urgent care staff must now cater to their every desire.
The Oliver Wyman survey found three main consumer expectations:
- Qualified staff
- High quality of care
- Information-sharing with other health and wellness professionals
These new demands have sent urgent care administrators searching for EMR systems in droves. But as more centers have adopted this technology, more have experienced frustrations with what was supposed to increase efficiency and provide better documentation. In other words, many urgent care centers around the country bought into systems that didn’t deliver what was promised. This lack of efficiency means longer wait times for patients and an inability to provide the care they now demand.
This is bad. Really bad.
A good EMR vendor will set you up with a system that will ensure you can provide a stellar patient experience. Quality EMR systems offer these six key features:
1. Systems Integration
Your EMR will only be as good as the data it can gather and share. For this reason, it’s very important to look for solutions that offers integration via interfaces that share data between systems.
For instance, you want to make sure your EMR program integrates with your billing system and, if you’re affiliated with a hospital, its HIS. Billing integration is critical because it streamlines your entire billing process for the patient. Integration will also improve the efficiency of your front office staff and reduce coding errors that will result in payment delays.
One reason you’ll definitely want to look for a solution with this feature is because integration ultimately reduces the time it takes to enter patient information each time a billing cycle occurs. Once patient files are initially loaded into the system, the data is quickly matched and can be sent electronically to an outside billing service or prepared in-house. This frees up time you can then devote to patient care.
2. Document Scanning Capabilities
Every urgent care clinic has unique needs that require customized workflows. Document scanning (particularly with OCR) allows you to create these workflows by supporting documentation to your in-house (or external) billing staff, who can then forward the completed submission for reimbursement. Document scanning eliminates any need on your part to obtain, copy or fax documents while reducing the potential for missing paperwork or billing delays.
3. Medication Tracking
Urgent care centers see many, many patients each week, which makes it difficult to track all of the medications you have prescribed. But with the medication tracking feature as part of your EMR solution, you can easily keep on top of patient medication information. This means knowing at a glance how a prescribed medication will interact with other medications your patient is taking and if the patient may have any allergic reactions to it. Not only will you get warnings, but your EMR system will also suggest alternative options.
Speaking of prescribing patients’ medications, gone are the days of having to hand over a paper prescription with your scribblings on it and then hoping the pharmacy correctly fills the order. The e-Prescription feature allows urgent care docs to electronically write prescriptions and either give a legible printout to the patient before they leave, or send the order directly to the patient’s pharmacy of choice.
5. Appointment Reminders
One of the things consumers like best about urgent care centers is that they have the option of walking right in and being seen, or making an advanced appointment for less urgent needs, like vaccinations and drug screening tests. Some quality EMR solutions integrate with schedulers, which allow them to send appointment reminders to patients via email via their mobile phone, a tablet, or laptop device. This feature allows you to set the reminder as you see fit, either sending a reminder seven days in advance or 24 hours before the scheduled time. This automation feature saves clinic staff a lot of time.
6. Marketing Data
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, urgent care centers are being forced to find more and more ways of standing out from the rest of the clinics in the area. EMR systems can help in this department because while they are collecting data on patients, they are also collecting data on your clinic’s performance output.
For instance, your system may be able to benchmark your clinic against the current national performance. Knowing exactly how you stack up against the competition (ie – far lower than average wait times) gives you something to boast about and use in your marketing campaigns.
When it comes to selecting an EMR, it’s all about choosing the one that offers features that will help your urgent care center provide the absolute best in care and service. Be sure to steer clear of standard one-size-fits-all solutions and opt for a specialized EMR system that fits your unique needs.