Electronic medical records

May 1, 2005

New Orleans — Dermatologists can use electronic medical records (EMR) to streamline their office and make it more efficient. However, critical analysis of their individual practice and the selected system are needed to optimize EMR use, according to David L. Crosby, M.D., a dermatologist in practice in Waukesha, Wis.

New Orleans - Dermatologists can use electronic medical records (EMR) to streamline their office and make it more efficient. However, critical analysis of their individual practice and the selected system are needed to optimize EMR use, according to David L. Crosby, M.D., a dermatologist in practice in Waukesha, Wis.

"Electronic medical record technology is one of our saviors for general dermatology," Dr. Crosby tells Dermatology Times. "Physicians who effectively use EMR can make as much money doing general dermatology as they can doing cosmetic work all day."

Dr. Crosby, has been using complete computerized patient records in his office since 1998.

EMR organizes all the patient records.

"When a dermatologist is dealing with a particular patient, all the information is on hand at that time. If a patient calls with a question, all the information is immediately available. When labs or path comes back there is a system in place to deal with that efficiently. EMR helps physicians efficiently manage the information in their practice throughout the day."

Getting started Switching over to EMR can be a daunting, time-consuming task. However, it is well worth it, Dr. Crosby says.

"Studies show that if a physician just dives in and gets going, in the long run - not that far down the road, say within six to 12 months - the practice will be doing better. It's going to hurt initially, but then the practice will do better."

Physicians need to find a system that they can use, and then figure out what parts of the system are helpful and what parts are not helpful, says Dr. Crosby, who did not discuss specific systems at his presentation at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.

"It is best to really try and accentuate the parts of the system that are helpful, and then try to eliminate or avoid the unhelpful parts. No system is perfect," he says.

Must be committed Once a system is selected the manufacturer can provide some technical support, but Dr. Crosby emphasizes that the dermatologist must be committed to EMR conversion.

"If the dermatologist thinks it is important, he or she must keep working on it," he says.

There are various ways of inputting records into the system. Dr. Crosby has a transcripionist type in much of the information.

"Some offices use drop-down menus. I think those really slow people down," he says.

Scanning can be used to input paper documents.

"We are still dealing with a world made of paper and the papers must be scanned in," he explains.

Optimization The biggest factor with the successful use of EMR is optimization.

"Dermatologists need to pay really close attention to how they and their staff are interacting with the system and then take the time to optimize those interactions," Dr. Crosby explains.

He points out the physicians and staff should analyze all their daily tasks and determine how time could be trimmed from each activity.

"By working very hard to optimize the system - even trimming a few seconds here and a few minutes there - vast amounts of time can be saved," he says. "For example, if it is an interaction performed 30 times in a day, and you save a minute each time, that is an extra 30 minutes a day," he says.

Relatively new EMR is a relatively new technology for the physician office. "Only about 10 percent have access to an EMR and people who exclusively use EMR is probably only 1 percent," he says. However, Dr. Crosby believes this trend will change.