Tuesday, 27 October 2015 22:51

Veterinary Industry a Promising Model for Integrated EMR Systems

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I have a horse that recently developed an abscess in her ear, which required veterinary treatment. So I called my vet: a good old-fashioned country doctor who came out to the house in his big blue pickup truck. Like many older veterinarians, he kept his medical records in a little notebook, which he faithfully updated with each horse’s treatment record after every visit. 

Sadly, I found, my vet had retired. So I called the equine veterinary clinic that took over my old vet’s practice. The new vet and her assistant rolled up in a big, shiny white truck and proceeded to pop open its sides, revealing a fully stocked portable equine hospital, complete with an onboard computer system. To my complete surprise, all the medical records for my horses were already in the system. They had all the vaccination records, results of tests, and even a consultant’s report from (believe it or not) an equine ophthalmologist that came out last year for one of my other horses that had developed a case of acute glaucoma. It’s always been fascinating to me how similar diseases and medical treatments are for animals and humans, and the language we use to describe them.

I watched with complete amazement as the vet called out results of her assessment to her assistant, who served as a scribe and typed everything into the electronic medical record (EMR), including the horse’s vital signs. Now, this equine EMR system had an incredible user interface, and they even uploaded pictures of my horse and her wound. When they were done sedating her and performing an incision and drainage, they emailed me a copy of the bill, along with discharge instructions that contained a list of her medications, instructions on how to change the dressing, and when to call for a follow-up visit. I learned that the portable EMR system syncs up to the office at the end of each day, where records can be shared with other vets at the clinic who later might have to cover for the primary care vet. Vets also can review a single episode of care for a patient via a mobile app, which promotes continuity of care and coordination between specialists when necessary. The system even allows for visualization of radiology images and can download lab results. Last but not least, it tracks their inventory and supply management, prompts for billing, and tracks accounts receivable. 

As an experienced vendor in healthcare IT systems and a studied follower of the meaningful use initiatives, my jaw dropped. I mean, this thing puts most EMR systems I’ve seen in human hospitals and doctor’s offices to shame. The only thing I’ve seen that even comes close is the EMR system used by Walgreens at their TakeCare™ Clinics. Now, I realize that horses don’t face the same complexities with protected health information and HIPAA requirements that people do, but what the hay!? If a local veterinary practice can successfully transition to a fully integrated electronic medical record (it took my vet organization less than a month to implement and train its staff), why is it so difficult for “people doctors” and healthcare systems? What I learned is astonishing.   

First, the cost for veterinarians to implement an EMR is pennies to the dollar as compared to human EMR systems − even though it’s the very much the same technology. The most sophisticated system I found cost less than $25,000 to implement, with some systems as low as $300 per month on a subscription pricing model. There are no regulatory certifications to jump through – and no one had to incentivize the veterinary industry to move into the electronic world. It was simply a matter of allowing vets to practice more efficiently, grow their practices, and meet customer expectations (meaning the horse and cattle owners in the community) for better care and service. This is simply free enterprise at its best. And it’s not just equine veterinarians who are broadly adopting EMR technologies. These same innovations are being implemented in small animal hospitals all across the country. This is no surprise to me, given that Americans spent $47.7 billion on their pets last year – and that doesn’t include the livestock industry!    

I am now certain that we could learn a lot from veterinary medicine in terms of creating an integrated EMR system that meets the needs of the population. Sure, there are big differences between the human and the pet market, as well as a lot of regulation driven largely by politics and expensive regulatory oversight. Maybe we should take a look at what’s going on in the veterinary information management industry and adopt a set of known best practices that seems to be working just fine for man’s best friends.

About the Author

Vicky Mahn-DiNicola is vice president of research and market insights at Midas+ Xerox, where she serves as a speaker, author, and clinical consultant in the areas of healthcare analytics, quality improvement, regulatory reporting, and healthcare transformation. A certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Ms. Mahn completed her undergraduate and post-graduate studies at the University of Arizona, where she continues to serve as adjunct faculty. 

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Last modified on Monday, 02 November 2015 04:21

Vicky Mahn-DiNicola is Vice President of Research and Market Insights at Midas+ Xerox, where she serves as a speaker, author and clinical consultant in the areas of healthcare analytics, quality improvement, regulatory reporting and healthcare transformation. A Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Ms. Mahn completed her undergraduate and post graduate studies at the University of Arizona, where she continues to serve as Adjunct Faculty.