Medical practices that are planning to get an electronic medical records (EMR) system in the near future will also need to consider whether they will be keeping their existing practice management software (EPM). Many factors come into play and we will discuss the pros and cons another time. For the purposes of our discussion, let’s assume you decided to upgrade to a new EPM that comes integrated with the new EMR system.
What do you do with all of the existing patient insurance and demographic data?
Keep it or throw it all away?
First, a little background. It is the year 1998 and businesses around the world are beginning to panic about the impending specter of the Y2K (year 2000) crisis. You remember – all computers will stop working because nobody thought to put the year in four digits instead of ‘19’ followed by two digits.
Well, our EPM system at that time was not Y2K-compliant and the vendor was not going to support the program past the year 2000 for small businesses, only hospitals. So we switched to a well-known EPM product and paid the vendor to convert the demographic data from the old system to the new.
Fast forward to 2002. We decided to go paperless because we were running out of space for our paper records. We hired our own in-house IT expert and we set up an EMR committee to choose our new integrated EMR/EPM system (because the EMR product sold by our current EPM vendor was lousy). We decided we were not ready to implement EMR yet so we switched EPM systems first as a dry run. We assumed we would convert the data like we did last time.
However, there are three key things to consider before you convert your old financial and demographic information over to the new system:
1. Garbage In = Garbage Out
Remember the old telephone game (or Pass It Down or Whisper Down the Lane)? Well, in the IT industry they have a phrase for what happens when bad information is processed through a computer and comes out…bad: Garbage In/ Garbage Out.
It seems that upon close inspection, much of the information entered in the EPM system – much of which was converted from the previous system – was not correct, up-to-date, or complete. Often, someone in the business office would create a duplicate patient account by accident. Sometimes they did it as a timesaver when dealing with different insurance carriers. This kind of redundant information would be nearly impossible to reconcile.
2. Data field mapping
Problems with data fields occur when, for example, the name in the old software system ends up in the address field in the new one. Typically, this is not the fault of either software company and you will be the one stuck with cleaning up the mess.
3. Cost of data conversion
Most software vendors will usually charge a flat fee to convert the old data. Expect to pay on the order of a few thousand dollars for this service.
Because we noted that there was some corrupted data caused by the conversion from EPM number 1 to EPM number 2, we decided to bite the bullet and start with clean data on the new EPM system number 3. Since we knew we were probably going to stick with this integrated platform for the long haul, it made sense to ensure that the data was good from the beginning.
Although this probably cost us more in staff-hours than the conversion fee, this also allowed us to kill two birds with one stone. Since we needed to train the staff on the new EPM system anyway, we had them call patients with upcoming appointments and input their verified information. Financial information was entered as the patients were seen, and the old system was kept running until we caught up with outstanding payments.