Are EMRs the Answer to Small-Practice Challenges?

Posted on March 21, 2012 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

During my recent visit to my daughter’s pediatrician, I was pleasantly surprised to see a computer up and humming along in a corner of the exam room. The last time we had been in, some six months before, that same piece of equipment sat shrink-wrapped (as it had been for a few months even before that), waiting for an eager clinician to tear open its plastic casing and put its digital capabilities to good use.

I had been dreading this particular appointment – our first with the one pediatrician left at the practice. Our usual doctor had left a few month earlier for parts unknown, so I wasn’t sure who – or what – to expect. The advice nurse who made my last minute “work-in” appointment was kind enough to make sure I understood that due to the second doctor’s departure, we would likely wait an extremely long time.

Our wait, which ended up being no longer than usual, gave me time to do a bit of snooping around the new computer. No keys or mouse were touched, but I did notice that NextGen was the practice’s EMR of choice. Yes, the nurse did have her back turned to us as she asked me questions about the reason for our visit and entered responses into the EMR. When I asked her if she liked the new system, she gave a rather noncommittal response in close approximation to “some days I do, some days I don’t.”

I’m guessing she may have bigger issues to deal with, such as assisting the patients of a double-, sometimes triple-booked pediatrician. The single-doc situation made me wonder how much training the practice’s staff had time for before and during go-live. I could certainly believe that follow-up training will take a backseat until a second pediatrician is brought into the fold and everyone gets back to a somewhat normal workload.

So how do small practices in similar situations do it? How do they find time for EMR training when overscheduled? Do vendors often step in and help with extra resources? How long do practices go before hiring additional staff? (That’s an off-topic question, I know, but one I’d still like an answer to.) I’d like to think that in the long run, the new EMR would of course help make everyone more efficient, and us patient parents more satisfied. Let me know what you find out in the comments below.