Provider’s EHR journey tells a common tale of fear, then success

May 2, 2012

It’s a story we hear all the time: A solo practitioner, with one staff member (often a family member or longtime receptionist), sees the importance of moving toward electronic health records. But the barriers can be daunting: paying for an EHR solution, changing the way you conduct your business, and then navigating the road to Meaningful Use.

If you ask Dr. Martin Szanto, he is happy tell you it’s worth the trouble.

“The programs that I had seen had actually frightened me off,” said Szanto, who successfully demonstrated Meaningful Use as part of the Medicare EHR Incentive program for 2011. “We were scared we would spend a lot of money. We didn’t know how to proceed or anything.”

Szanto reached out to Swedish Covenant Hospital, with which he is affiliated. They suggested he contact the Chicago Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center (CHITREC).

“I called, and when we started we didn’t know anything - except that this was something about computers,” Szanto quipped.

CHITREC is designated by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to assist clinicians in Chicago as they work toward becoming meaningful users of EHRs. Anticipating the need for support with EHR adoption in their community, leadership at Swedish Covenant Hospital first reached out to CHITREC in January 2011. CHITREC now supports several affiliate and employed practices throughout the hospital network.

Szanto was encouraged by peers in his Swedish affiliate building (6374 North Lincoln Ave.) to consider Practice Fusion, an inexpensive option popular among small practices. He began using the system in September 2011 and was attesting to Meaningful Use - the required step for receiving an initial Medicare incentive payment of $18,000 - before the end of the year.

Szanto said he was grateful for CHITREC helping him through the process. “It’s so overwhelming!” he said.

CHITREC’s Direct Assistance program delivers education, training, tools and assessments to help providers meet all of the requirements for Meaningful Use with any certified system. Szanto’s office manager, Marilyn, learned the ins and outs of Practice Fusion and helped educate him.

“Marilyn learned it and she taught me in about five minutes,” Szanto recalled. “You learn the knicks and knacks as you go along, once you get the fundamentals.”

CHITREC’s role included help with registration and attestation as well as a gap analysis to ensure he was meeting all the correct measures of Meaningful Use. The Direct Assistance program also provided funding to help pay for his Practice Fusion consultant.

One surprising advantage of adopting an EHR, according to Szanto, is the ease of entering visit notes. He used to be worried about having notes that would suffice if he were ever audited.

“My notes were so good [now] that I could send things right off,” he said. “I was so proud of that note. I could go to sleep happy.” With his system, which is Internet-based, he is able to log in remotely. “It’s like being in my office 24/7.”

Szanto has since referred another solo practitioner in his medical complex to CHITREC and coached her on how to download and use the Practice Fusion software. CHITREC has been actively reaching out to small practices all over the northwest side and around the city. Our Direct Assistance program is available for eligible professionals dedicated to reaching Meaningful Use with an EHR.