Practice’s EMR Implementation Drove Up Costs For Six Months

Posted on September 28, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Everyone knows that providers incur EMR-related costs until well after it is implemented. According to a new study, in fact, one medical incurred higher costs for six months after its implementation.

The study, which appeared recently in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, calculated the impact of an EMR implementation on labor costs and productivity at an outpatient orthopedic clinic. The researchers conducting the study used time-driven activity-based costing to estimate EMR-related expenses.

To conduct the study, the research team timed 143 patients prospectively throughout their clinic visit, both before implementation of the hospital system-wide EMR and then again at two months, six months and two years after the implementation.

The researchers found that after the first two months, total labor costs per patient had shot up from $36.88 to $46.04.

One reason for the higher costs was a growth in the amount of time attending surgeons spent per patient, which went up from 9.38 to 10.97 minutes, increasing surgeon cost from $21 to $27.01. In addition, certified medical assistants for spending what time assessing patients, with the time spent almost tripling from 3.42 to 9.1 minutes.

On top of all of this, providers were spending more than twice as much time documenting patient encounters as they had before, up to 7.6 minutes from 3.3 minutes prior to the implementation.

By the six-month mark, however, labor costs per patient had largely returned to their previous levels, settling at $38.75 compared with $36.88 prior to the installation, and expense which remain at the same level when calculated at two years after the EMR implementation.

However, providers were spending even more time documenting encounters than they had before the rolling, with time climbing to 8.43 minutes or roughly 5 minutes more than prior to the introduction of the EMR. Not only that, providers were spending less time interacting with patients, falling to 10.03 as compared with 14.65 minutes in the past.

Sadly, we might have been able to predict this outcome. Clearly, the clinic’s EMR implementation has burdened its providers and further minimized time the providers spend with their patients. This, unfortunately, is more of a rule than an exception.

So why did the ortho practice even bother? It’s hard to say. The study doesn’t say what the practice hoped to accomplish by putting the EMR in place, or whether it met those goals. Given that the system was still in place after two years one would hope that it was providing some form of value.

Truthfully, I’d much rather have learned about what the clinic actually got for its investment than how long it took to get everyone trained up and using it. To be fair, though, this data might have some relevance to the hospital systems that manage a broad spectrum of medical practices, and that’s worth something.