October 2013 Edition Vol.11, Issue 10

Innovation in EHR Technology Drives Quality Oncology Care and Offers Solutions to the Challenges Facing Community Oncologists

Innovation in EHR Technology Drives Quality Oncology Care and Offers Solutions for Community Oncologists 

By Asif Ahmad

The mantra in oncology over the last several years has revolved around how practices should deal with the myriad of challenges they face: new guidelines and regulations, lower reimbursement and a shift toward value-based patient care. As a result, many community oncologists are actively looking for opportunities to improve efficiency within their practices, lower costs and ensure their practices remain financially healthy and independent. As exciting new therapies and drugs bring hope to patients and remind oncologists why they chose their field, new information technologies are also changing the game when it comes to operating a practice. In fact, through these challenging and exhilarating times in cancer care, one thing has become clear: innovative healthcare information technology can play a critical role in helping physicians provide high-quality, evidence-based, cost-effective patient care.

Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems are one example of technology that can help practices meet many of their clinical and operational goals. While there has been a great deal of talk about EHRs over the last couple of years, due in part to the financial incentives offered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), many practices still have not yet taken the plunge. As more practices consider adopting an EHR for the first time or even switching to a new EHR, there are several important factors to consider:

An Oncology-Specific EHR Will Provide the Greatest Support for an Oncology Practice

Healthcare Information Technology, including EHR systems, needs to be designed to drive outcomes and quality care. For oncologists, that means choosing an oncology-specific EHR that includes meaningful content relevant to oncology and clinical decision support tools available at the point of care. Oncology-specific tools will best help oncologists provide and measure value-based patient care.

One key to ensuring the technology offers relevant content is the inclusion of oncologists as an integral part of the software development team. These physicians can draw from their day-to-day clinical experience to create a system that integrates into daily oncology workflow. Oncology can require specialized and complex treatments. When EHR developers recognize the impact that immediate access to a regimen library and available clinical trials have on a physician’s ability to quickly and accurately make the best treatment recommendations to patients, the result is a combination of systems that work together to offer extensive support to the oncologist at the point of care. One component is a robust decision support engine that prompts the oncologist to answer questions relevant to a patient’s particular type of cancer, and based on the information provided, automatically calculates and recommends the most appropriate stage according to the American Joint Committee on Cancer’s (AJCC) staging criteria. The most robust EHRs will use this information to identify appropriate, up-to-date disease-specific regimen treatment options and even clinical trials, if available.

Interoperability is Critical to Allow for Growth

An EHR should be interoperable to ensure the system is effectively meeting changing technology needs. When choosing an EHR, a practice should be sure the system will be able to communicate with other systems within the practice – such as practice management and inventory management systems – as well as be flexible enough to exchange information with patients’ other care providers, including hospitals and labs, for the most effective and comprehensive care. Even more, make sure the system was developed on a platform that will accommodate changes and advancements in the future.  An EHR needs to stay on top of today’s rapidly changing environment with software that reflects the latest advancements in healthcare and technology.

Mobile Access is the New Standard – for Care Any Time, Any Place

Oncologists are best served by an EHR optimized for access through a variety of mobile devices, including laptops, tablets and smart phones. Let’s face it, in today’s mobile world, oncologists must be able to access patient information, quickly respond to questions and communicate with patients and other care providers whenever and wherever they are.  

Successfully Implementing an EHR

For many oncologists and practice administrators, the thought of migrating to an EHR system is a double-edged sword. On the one side, they want to take advantage of the benefits an oncology-specific EHR will provide for the practice and its patients. On the other side is the realization that implementing a new system is a big undertaking. 

There are several keys to successful implementation of an EHR: detailed planning; clinical engagement, development of optimal workflows; thorough training of all physicians and staff; and active support throughout the process. To begin, a practice should create a team that oversees the selection and implementation of the EHR and monitors the progress toward meeting Meaningful Use objectives. A good EHR vendor will have an experienced and knowledgeable team that understands the nuances of the way an oncology practice operates and can minimize the disruption to patient care and workflows during the transition. Before selecting an EHR vendor, it’s a good idea for a practice to speak with a few of the vendor’s current customers to ascertain how long the implementation took and the problems they encountered.

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