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What the New Electronic Medical Record Laws Mean for You

02/20/2017

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You might have noticed a few changes in medical appointments during the last few years — physicians carrying around smart tablets in place of clipboards, or maybe you’ve made an appointment online using a patient portal. Technology is becoming more intertwined with the appointment process, and it’s changing the patient experience for the better.

The adaption of clinical technology is largely due to several government mandates that have taken effect during the last few years. These changes, called health informatics, have come about as a way to better track and report Medicare reimbursements. Now, health care providers who receive Medicare reimbursement must have digital records throughout their clinics.

These regulations and changes can be confusing, but it’s important to be aware of the changing climate of health care mandates, even as a patient.

Terms like EMRsEHRs and Meaningful Use are used by clinical staff, but do you know what they mean for you? Don’t stress – we can help break it down. Thankfully, these regulations mean less paperwork for patients and more streamlined check-in processes. Health informatics mandates aim to cut the time patients spend waiting before appointments and the time clinical staffers spend processing paperwork.

What digital records mean for patients

“The industry move to electronic health records benefits both clinicians and patients; some of the benefits are more coordinated care between health care providers, better communication and a reduction in repeated medical tests,” says INTEGRIS system administrative director Maggie Wolff.

Essentially, these changes bring a wave of clinical advancement into the hands of patients. Instead of traditional paper forms to fill out every time you have an appointment, digital records will make medical data entry a much quicker and more convenient process.

In place of paper forms, you’ll have more options that could include patient portals, smart tablets, or scan forms. Forms on some patient portals can even be completed online before the appointment. That’s right – you can get the hassle out of the way from the comfort of your home.

Because the forms are electronic, the information is easily shareable among health care professionals.

Nurses and doctors can easily look over and update health information during an appointment. This information can follow you to the next hospital or clinic wherever you receive medical care. Overall, this will improve the consistency of the care you receive.

Finally, because some information on EMRs and EHRs is self-reported, patients have the responsibility to accurately provide data that will help them achieve the best care possible. Patient portals also elevate the level of patient participation by providing all relevant care data. The digitizing of medical data is about more than just saving time -- it's about empowering patients to be active participants in their care.

What are Meaningful Use and MACRA?

Meaningful Use is a law that was passed as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It lays out many new rules for health care providers, including requiring providers to use digital records by January 1, 2014. Providers who failed to do so were penalized through a reduction of their Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates.

MACRA stands for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act and is a follow-up to Meaningful Use. The bill is complex. Simply, it mandates that clinics and hospitals must establish the use of EHR technology and follow specific payment tracts in order to receive federal reimbursements for Medicare. MACRA became law in November, but many health care providers have been taking steps for months to incorporate these practices.

What are EMRs, EHRs and patient portals?

EMR stands for electronic medical record. An EMR is essentially a digital version of the paper chart used in clinic and hospitals, according to HealthIT.gov. It contains notes and the information gathered by physicians and other care professionals during the time of care. It’s primarily used for diagnosis and treatment purposes and can dramatically improve care and communication between your health care team.

An EHR stands for electronic health record and is a much broader document in terms of medical data. Information included on this document goes beyond one single appointment and is easily shareable between different clinics. For example, your family doctor may refer you to a specialist for treatment. That specialist can retrieve your medical information quickly from your primary care physician because the information is digitized. Care then becomes more consistent.

EMRs and EHRs are comprised of self-reported medical data, including family history, care history, allergies, and other pertinent care-related info. Each piece of information is vital in determining the treatments you receive and types of medications you can be prescribed.

Patient portals are online software tools that allow patients to securely access appointment information, prescriptions and follow-up care instructions. Clinics and hospitals use these portal sites to host information that is important for patients to have access to and understand.

INTEGRIS & Me

INTEGRIS currently utilizes INTEGRIS & Me, a program that manages patient data, online billing and communication. Patients use the service to navigate their care plans conveniently. With access to information, physicians and patients become partners in care.

“A patient portal like INTEGRIS & Me provides patients access to their medical records, conveniently and securely online. It’s a personalized, online suite of tools that will change the way patients interact with health care,” says Wolff.

Features of the program include online communication with health care teams, online appointment requests, bill management, prescription information and medical records access. By offering the tools that many other consumer industries use, health care becomes more convenient and user-focused.

Still unclear about EHRs, EMRs, or patient portals? Don’t worry. Call the clinic of your appointment with questions you have about records or how to navigate the patient portal. With a little practice, these tools will help streamline your appointment experience!

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