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With all of the options on the market, choosing an electronic medical record (EMR) for your urgent care center can be an overwhelming process. Many vendors purport to have ambulatory EMRs that are well-suited for the urgent care environment, but the reality is that urgent care is a unique setting that requires its own set of technology needs.

To avoid investing in the wrong tools for your center, these are the six essential features your urgent care EMR needs to have:

1. Built-in Coding

Improperly coded charts can result in denied claims and lost revenue for your urgent care center. For startup urgent care centers with very little wiggle room when it comes to cash flow, this can quickly lead to financial disaster. So should every urgent care center have a professional coder on staff to ensure charts are coded correctly? The answer is an unequivocal no.

An EMR that’s built for urgent care will have coding built right into the EMR so clinicians can focus on charting the patient visit. The EMR should automatically do the coding as the clinician documents the patient visit so everything is coded correctly. A well-designed EMR will alert the clinician if there are issues with documentation that might affect billing to prevent potential claims denials.

You could invest in a medical coder instead of an urgent care EMR, but the average medical coder (both certified and non-certified) earns about $49,872 annually. Imagine the potential cost-savings your urgent care center could see simply by using the right EMR.

2. Charting Templates Designed for Urgent Care

An urgent care visit is unlike any other type of patient visit, which means you can’t use the same charting templates that a primary care practice or an emergency department does. Well, you can, but documenting a patient visit with those templates will take you so much longer to complete. Using an EMR with a documentation system that’s not designed specifically for urgent care is like trying to dig a hole with a pencil. It’s simply the wrong tool for the job. An urgent care EMR will have charts designed for a typical urgent care visit. Spend one day treating urgent care patients, and it’ll be incredibly easy to spot the difference between urgent care charting templates and everything else.

3. Specialized Practice Management Software

One of the most crucial system integrations your urgent care EMR must have is with your practice management (PM) software. Your practice management software needs to support the nuances of an urgent care practice, such as checking in patients for episodic, walk-in visits instead of only supporting the scheduling of primary care appointments.

You should also make sure your practice management software is capable of supporting services that are typically seen in an urgent care center. Can it handle occupational medicine services; integrate with online check-in and patient self-registration systems; and automate the billing of case rate contracts, which are common in urgent care but essentially non-existent outside of urgent care?

Ultimately, you’ll want to find an integrated EMR/PM system designed specifically for urgent care for a more seamless experience for your registration, clinical and billing staff

4. System Integrations

The ability to share data between systems is crucial. There are specific system integrations that an urgent care EMR needs to have to ensure an urgent care practice runs efficiently and profitably:

  • An out-of-clinic patient check-in system that allows patients to check in before they arrive
  • A patient registration system (both in- and out-of-clinic) that allows patients to fill out registration paperwork electronically
  • X-ray over-reads
  • In-clinic medication dispensing (depending on your state laws)
  • Lab integrations
  • Pre-authorized credit cards
  • Online bill pay

Much like the integrated EMR/PM system, these system integrations will ensure a much more seamless experience across multiple departments in your urgent care center.

5. Occupational Medicine Functionality

Many urgent care centers add occ med services because it complements the urgent care model so well. While urgent care visits are episodic, occ med visits can be scheduled so they fill non-peak periods, using a center’s labor more efficiently throughout the day.

Most non-urgent care EMRs don’t have built-in occupational medicine functionality, making occupational medicine and employer paid services a manual process for staff. An urgent care EMR needs to have this functionality built right in so your staff can communicate electronically with your center’s clients, eliminating the need to print and scan records and respond to copious company inquiries. The advantage this will give you over your competition will help you bring in far more occ med clients.

6. Robust Reporting

If you don’t know how your urgent care center is performing, you won’t be able to correct any issues before any long-term damage is done. A good urgent care EMR will have robust reporting that will help you monitor the health of your urgent care center, including your billing, collections, marketing and operations.

Good reporting will help you negotiate with payors for better reimbursement, know whether you need to extend or shorten your center’s operating hours, and even determine whether your marketing methods are effective. If your current EMR doesn’t have robust reporting, it’s time to look into one that is giving you the reports you need to run your center more effectively.

There are very few EMRs on the market that are actually designed for urgent care. Make sure you do your research to make sure you choose one that meets the unique needs of your urgent care center.

This resource was first published prior to the 2019 merger between DocuTAP and Practice Velocity. The content reflects our legacy brands.

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