7 Must-Have EMR Features When Choosing an Urgent Care Software Solution

As the industry evolves, more urgent cares are evaluating their current electronic medical records (EMR) and practice management (PM) software solutions to make sure their practice is competitive and their processes are efficient. What worked 10 years ago needs a second look as the industry moves forward.

While urgent cares continue to be focused on efficient workflow, choosing the right partners can also have a big effect on your success. The wrong EMR can cost clinics time, money, and frustration. Most practices admit to not fully considering their clinic’s needs when analyzing which EMR/PM to choose and, not surprisingly, the inability to meet practice needs is one of the most common reasons many urgent cares are looking for a new solution.

You undoubtedly have a running list of what’s important when choosing an EMR/PM—not only software features, but also how well your goals align with the provider you choose. The following list of must-haves, based on years of helping urgent cares find their best solution, includes both software and service priorities that you need to consider.

 

Priority 1 – Partnership

While partnership is not actually a feature, it’s at the top of the list because it’s essential to your successful urgent care operation. A number of EMR vendors can provide workable software, not all of them will understand the on-demand healthcare business, share your goals, or provide added support, insight, and flexibility to work with you toward your success. The EMR/PM vendor you choose should listen to your needs and deliver software and services that meets them. They should also understand your revenue cycle and provide support and guidance to be sure you’re doing everything you can on your side to keep your clinic in good financial shape.

As the industry evolves, many urgent cares are evolving with it, offering a variety of additional ancillary services like OccMed or limited primary care. As you consider different EMR vendors, think about what they offer in addition to software and if they have the flexibility to ensure your EMR works the way you do.

And don’t limit your thinking to what you need now but include your aspirations for the future of your business. Can your partner make your growth as painless as possible and adapt as you adapt?

Remember, partnership doesn’t end with EMR implementation. It’s only the beginning of a relationship that grows with time and benefits both parties.

Tip: Choose a business partner that can provide more than software. Your EMR/PM provider must understand urgent care, share your values, and contribute to your success by providing insight that supports your growth and development.

 

Priority 2 – Easy-to-Use Navigation

Most software is made for a wide range of healthcare specialties. Unfortunately for urgent care providers, this software can be cumbersome, taking the urgency out of urgent care. You need software with a documentation system geared toward a typical urgent care visit, minus all the extra clicks and options you’ll find with an all-purpose EMR.

While many EMRs utilize drop-down lists and window-in-window navigation, a platform for urgent care should be simpler and user-friendly. Your EMR interface should takes users through documentation in logical steps and integrate seamlessly with PM (practice management) solutions.

Look for solutions with urgent care charting templates and intuitive navigation. Single-click selections, search queries, and favorites lists simplify the documentation process, so providers won’t have to duplicate efforts re-entering patient and encounter information. To accommodate urgent care workflow, your EMR should allow various staff to document an encounter in any order they prefer and access the chart simultaneously.

For even more efficiency, choose an EMR that recommends E/M codes based on provider documentation. Urgent care-specific solutions will provide accurate and reliable code suggestions that reflect urgent care visits. Not only does this streamline workflow, but it can also result in significantly higher revenue due to reduction in rejected claims for inaccuracies or incorrect coding.

Since occupational medicine complements the urgent care model, your EMR should accommodate OccMed visits and offer functionality that enables staff to communicate electronically (and easily) with workplace clients, eliminates the need to scan and print records, and helps staff respond to client requests without breaking a sweat.

Your choice of PM software can also have a big effect on efficiency. The platform should be seamlessly integrated with your EMR and allow staff to check in patients for episodic, walk-in visits, right alongside scheduled appoints.

Look for a PM that easily integrates with online patient registration, automated check-in processes, and billing. Can your PM automate case rate contracts, which are common in urgent care but essentially non-existent outside the industry?

While simplicity is critical to navigation and saves clinicians and staff time and effort, the right EMR, increases employee satisfaction and engagement—a huge advantage in a competitive job market.

Tip: Pick an EMR that fits you, not one that confines you to its parameters. Ask up front about must-haves that work for urgent care. Create an ideal flow beforehand, and see if the EMR can do it.

 

Priority 3 – Powerful Business Intelligence

Urgent care is increasingly competitive. Making smart business decisions is so much easier when you have access to relevant, actionable data—ideally, this is readily available from your EMR/PM partner.

In today’s healthcare environment, we are inundated with data, beginning with the demographic information we collect from patients during registration. We collect more data at every step of the process including the most common complaints, the types of protocols we follow, and time spent per encounter. When pulled together, this data gives us power.

Your EMR should allow you to access this essential data at a glance, in real or almost-real time. It should give you the ability to configure data in a way that makes sense for your business, get numbers fast, identify trends, and drill down to get specific actionable data that is relevant to your clinic.

With the right analytics tools, you have access to key performance indicators tied to visit volume, door-to-door times, revenue, and collections, and evaluate where you excel or fall behind based on current benchmarking data. Business intelligence provided through your EMR/PM software, and by your EMR partner should give you the ability to leverage information to improve productivity, expedite revenue, and make wise business decisions—on your time frame.

Tip: Look for an EMR partner that understands the importance of analytics in your day-to-day operations, and don’t settle for a solution that doesn’t provide the tools you need.

 

Priority 4 – Interfacing

No EMR is an island, even an integrated EMR. As a central storage area for patient data, an EMR must be able to transfer information both in and out. Choose an EMR that gives you the ability to interface with outside labs, radiology centers, and pharmacies for ePrescribing.

Most interfaces are facilitated through the Health Level Seven (HL7) standard language today, but this is moving quickly to an API world. Interfacing should have bidirectional data sharing capability, effectively swapping information back and forth, so when updates are done in one system—a patient address update for example—the change is also sent and recorded in the interfaced system. This joining of digital hands is essential to efficiency when x-rays or lab work are involved.

When evaluating EMR/PM vendors, check to see if they have successfully completed the types of interfaces your urgent care needs. Experience with interfaces means it’s more likely they can quickly and affordably create the interfaces you require.

Tip: Ask prospective EMR vendors about their interface capabilities—and if established third-party vendors are already in place.

 

Priority 5 – Training and Technical Support

Software is a tool, and it’s only effective in the hands of skilled users. To make an EMR successful, both administrative and clinical staff must be properly trained. Ask EMR vendors about their training programs. Do they have trainers on staff to help get clinic personnel up to speed during implementation? And is training included as a part of implementation or an additional cost? What about ongoing training? Whether online or on-site, continuous training ensures your staff stays up to date on software functionality.

Access to online training helps save valuable time when onboarding new personnel. This is especially helpful for urgent care clinics which experience frequent employee turnover, along with a high percentage of part-time staff and temporary personnel. Of course, personalized training will be the most effective for EMR mastery, so check to see if the EMR vendor you’re considering has separate, role-based training for registration, triage, and billing staff.

Support doesn’t stop with implementation. You’ll need ongoing help to answer questions as they come up after your EMR is up and running. Make sure your EMR partner has its own technical support team—not contracted personnel who may be located anywhere in the world. Be sure the implementation and support team can speak the urgent care language, understands the U.S. healthcare industry, and is committed to your success.

We would all love it if software issues only occurred during business hours, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Be sure your EMR partner has the staff to handle after-hours troubleshooting, and that they’re equipped with the skills and tools to get you back on track.

Tip: Find out if training and support is offered as part of the EMR pricing or if it costs you more. Online training programs will save you valuable time with new hires. Reliable, committed EMR vendors will offer comprehensive, role-based training, and ongoing stateside tech support.

 

Priority 6 – Patient-focused Functionality

An urgent care EMR should have tools for patient interaction. A tablet-based EMR that allows for patient engagement and education at the same time as charting can improve the delivery of care and build patient relationships. In addition, an EMR can offer other interactive tools to help patients take charge of their health choices and payment options.

If you haven’t thought about electronic/online registration and wait time transparency, you should. With these patient-centric tools, patients can complete registration before they arrive at the clinic. Then at the clinic, include a simple check-in kiosk and queue display in the lobby that shows the order of patients. Add to this, text-based appointment reminders, notifications about wait time, and secure notifications regarding the availability of lab results, and you not only engage your patients, you build relationships.

Software that offers patients the ability to pay online, preauthorize credit card/debit card payments, or setup payment plans can not only improve the patient experience but also decrease collection time.

Urgent cares should look for a PM that includes functionality for preauthorization of payments. Patients are used to using their credit cards to for subscriptions services, to hold rental cars, and to pay in advance for ongoing services. While it’s a relatively new concept in healthcare, more urgent care clinics are adopting the practice and making it a part of their process. Those who have implemented this into their practice have reported faster collections, reduced delinquent patient accounts, and improved patient satisfaction. Keeping a credit card on file can help make life easier for the patient, and for your billing staff. Communicating that a payment will be charged to a card is a critical part of the process and allows patients an option of choosing another payment method in advance.

Even in an urgent care environment where patients typically follow up with their primary care physician, communication should continue after the visit. Gauge patient satisfaction and encourage positive online reviews with a simple text-based, post-visit patient survey. One simple question about quality of service can send up a flag when a patient is dissatisfied and allow your staff to follow up with timely service recovery. This not only lets a patient know you care but discourages negative online reviews or word of mouth.

Another point of contact might be a web-based patient portal, which allows patients to login via the internet and view private messages, lab reports, appointment details, or other documents from their doctor—all in a secure environment.

Tip: Engage patients with helpful tools like wait time transparency, online check-in, and text reminders. Collaborate and communicate back and forth with patients with an EMR that has a secure patient portal. Also consider using a tablet-based EMR that helps improve patient-doctor interaction.

 

Priority 7 – Dedicated Focus

A chiropractor office’s workflow is different than a pediatric clinic’s. Physical therapy is different than cardiology, and your urgent care is no exception. Choose an EMR built with your service line in mind. With software designed to work with your typical patient scenarios, there’s no need to modify an EMR to fit your clinic’s workflow—saving you time and frustration. A one-size-fits-all EMR doesn’t really fit urgent care. Larger EMR vendors often focus on servicing hospitals and general practice clients—and don’t make EMRs to fit specialized medicine—nor are they focused on speed of documentation.

In an on-demand healthcare environment, user convenience also speeds up documentation for users and allows them to work on-the-go. Think about mobility when you make your choice. Tablet-based EMR software offers more convenience than applications that work only on a desktop.

Tip: Pick an EMR made specifically for your urgent care practice. All the bells and whistles offered by some EMR vendors actually sound like a lot of noise in an on-demand healthcare environment where quick and accurate charting is priority. One size does not fit all.

It can be a daunting task to choose the right EMR/PM software solution for your urgent care—especially with so many to choose from. The successful operation of your urgent care is hindered or helped by your EMR partner. If you’re switching from your current EMR, you know the limitations some EMRs have. Take your time and test each option against the features you need. The perfect software, including a perfect EMR, doesn’t exist. But there is a platform that will work best for your clinic’s situation.

A software review committee, composed of users and staff with a variety of perspectives, can help your clinic choose the right option. Most importantly, don’t settle for a solution without thinking about future growth. Choose an agile, forward thinking partner that stays ahead of the trends and positioned to grow and change with the industry. A good business partner will not only help your urgent care run smoothly but will also be committed to the success of your entire business.

Only you can determine which EMR is best for you. Choose wisely.

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