SPRING HILL — By 2014, doctors' offices must go digital, making the leap from paper to pixels.
The federal government has mandated that physicians move from old-fashioned paper files to high-tech electronic medical records. If they don't, they will lose coveted Medicare money, and some insurance companies may even lower their reimbursements.
Hoping to catch a ride on this electronic wave, a local medical transcription company has changed its name and revamped its office.
Within the next year, the company is poised to hire 25 specially trained medical records clerks, chart scanners and quality assurance checkers. Just in the last month, it has added 11 new employees.
"Physicians are just lost out there," said Victoria Kaczynski, co-owner of eDocs Conversion Solutions. "This is a monumental change."
The conversion from paper to digital is a long and arduous process. Doctors must purchase and, along with their staff, learn to operate electronic medical records software and hardware — so that all future patient information is entered and maintained digitally.
What about past records? What do physicians do with their voluminous paper files?
That is where eDocs Conversion Solutions comes in. The company has put its focus on converting hard-copy patient histories to the new digital platform.
"We've looked at the big picture, and we hope to be a little piece of the puzzle," said Teresina Jessie, the other owner of the company.
Jessie and Kaczynski have owned and operated the Spring Hill company, formerly known as Advantec Global Solutions, for more than 11 years. The recent name change corresponds with the business' new focus. In addition to medical transcription, it is plunging into electronic document scanning.
The move to electronic medical records, or EMRs, is part of President Obama's 2009 economic stimulus package, with $20 billion designated to health care providers who adopt electronic health records.
"The train has left the station," said Jay Wolfson, program director of the University of South Florida's PaperFree Florida initiative. "Nobody likes change, but the change is on its way."
Wolfson estimates that it takes a typical physician's office from six months to a year to convert, and — depending on the size of the office, the level of customization, the number of computer terminals and licenses, and the type of digital file storage — EMR conversion can easily cost physicians up to $100,000. Additionally, Wolfson said, during the transition, many offices lose revenue as patient volume decreases.
"But after the conversion, these offices are truly efficient, and they save money, lives and time," he said, adding that EMRs prevent redundant tests, over-billing, conflicting prescriptions and lost files.
In addition, space that formerly housed rows of files can be utilized to accommodate more patients or dedicated to a new in-office lab. There's no need to pay clerks to pull files, and doctors no longer need to rent off-site storage.
"I love my EMR. Now that we're totally electronic, I can't imagine going back," said Dr. Natalie Leibensperger, owner of My Gynecologist in Spring Hill.
In her practice, Leibensperger greets patients with an Apple iPad in hand, inputting data and typing notes. She can look up dosage information before prescribing a medication and review patient history in real time.
Patients' lab results arrive electronically, so no faxes get lost, and imaging results, though still faxed, are quickly imported into the EMR system with a special program. Her office is completely digital with no paper files.
Additionally, Leibensperger can search her EMRs for demographic information on her patients so she can target her advertising dollars, and even check on which doctors are referring patients.
When she opened her practice in 2003, she immediately purchased EMR software. At that time, she only had two weeks of paper files to convert to digital. But many physicians are not that lucky.
More old-school offices may have thousands of files to contend with, Jessie said. Physicians traditionally have kept paper charts, film of X-rays and pages of transcribed notes on each patient. These paper records must be kept for a certain number of years, and very often boxes of files are moved into storage facilities. "Now, not only do doctors have to be doctors, but they have to be secretaries and (information technology) computer guys," Jessie said.
At eDocs, off Commercial Way in Spring Hill, a team of document converters works in a closed room, scanning, coding the paper files and checking for accuracy.
The company is compliant with all federal privacy laws, and all records are in full color and are separated by category, just like a paper chart. The digital files are searchable and easily updated. The files are easily merged with a doctor's office's EMR software.
"There is so much new technology out there. We have researched this for more than three years and decided on how best to accommodate the heath care needs out there," Jessie said.
eDocs will convert files at its office or on-site at doctor's offices, she said. The company will continue to employ about 30 medical transcriptionists, many of whom work remotely throughout the country.