Use an HL7 interface to avoid entering patient data twice

September 10, 2012

You already like your current software, but imminent electronic health record system implementation requires a different program. Here's how to avoid entering information more than once.

Q: I like my existing billing software but need to use a different system for my electronic health record (EHR) system. How can I avoid a situation where my staff has to enter patient data twice?

A: You will need to use an interface between these two systems. Most modern billing and EHR systems allow for an HL7 interface to send data between the systems. Some systems include the software needed to set up the interface, whereas others require buying and installing an additional module.

Establishing this interface often involves an additional cost of approximately $10,000 per side, because you must purchase additional software from one or both vendors.

A typical interface setup will allow your front-desk staff to input patient information, make appointments in your billing system, and then transfer this information to your EHR. Your clinical staff then may use the EHR system to document the visit while treating the patient. Because EHRs were developed after billing systems, HL7 interfaces are well-suited to the task of importing data cleanly into your EHR.

A secure connection called a virtual private network (VPN) also may be required if your systems are not on the same local network. Information technology staff on both sides of the connection should be able to use the VPN. In addition, early in the project, identify technical support staff on both sides to avoid implementation delays.

The data for your insurance claims can be fed automatically back into your billing system. You may find, however, that the billing system doesn't correctly match the diagnosis codes to the procedure codes due to limitations in the implementation of one side of the interface or the other.

In many cases, you will find quirks in how the systems interact, so be sure to allow extra time at the beginning of the implementation process to get up to speed with your system and address any problems. Encourage your billing staff to ask questions of the vendors to ensure that they are prepared to handle the most complicated claims without any significant double entry on the billing side.

Your vendors will install, configure, and test this interface to ensure that all the necessary data flow smoothly between the systems. It would be a good idea to test your own system to ensure that any changes in your demographic master system are accurately reflected in the interfaced system and complicated charges post correctly in the billing system.

The entire implementation project may take several months to complete. In addition, it may require a significant time commitment from your staff members as you reconfigure your office workflow and train them on the operation of the interface.

Answers to our readers' questions were provided by Lyle Melick, manager of information systems, SS&G Healthcare Services LLC in Akron, Ohio.