In the highly competitive world of cosmetic surgery, image is everything. This is a specialty inherently based on innovation, and to stay relevant, practitioners must stay ahead of the technology curve. While cosmetic surgeons are quick to offer patients the latest and greatest body contouring procedure, many may be falling behind when it comes to healthcare information technology.Paperless opt

The US Department of Health & Human Services implemented the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act to improve patient care by encouraging, and eventually requiring, physicians of all specialties to adopt electronic medical record (EMR) systems.

EMR systems do away with the old-school paper chart system and strive to make healthcare information more portable. They enhance communication among providers and between providers and patients, as well as increase access to clinical decision support and other data-driven, evidence-based tools.

The HITECH Act offers incentive payments to certain physicians who demonstrate “Meaningful Use” of EMR systems. “Meaningful Use” refers to a system of requirements and algorithms that document specific patient care steps and methodologies.

Plastic surgeons perform both cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, and for some, the majority of their practice revenue and patient volume may be derived from reconstructive surgery, which is typically insurance-reimbursed. Elective cosmetic surgery is not subject to certain HITECH Act penalties that a plastic surgeon’s Medicare- or Medicaid-reimbursed reconstructive surgical revenue is subject to. After 2015, there will be penalties for those who bill Medicare and Medicaid if they are not participating in the Meaningful Use attestation process. If you do enough Medicare/Medicaid work, your EMR system can pay for itself. But even if you don’t participate in Medicare or Medicaid, failure to get on the EMR bandwagon may be shortsighted.

In the future, licensure and certification processes may require demonstration of some version of Meaningful Use of EMR systems, and paper chart holdouts may find their practices threatened. Even cash-for-service practices may be affected if there is further government pressure tied to utilization of healthcare information technology.


There are other perks to going paperless, particularly for plastic surgeons. Some EMR systems have patient education tools, allowing plastic surgeons to show the details of a proposed surgery via interactive screens on an iPad. The surgeon can draw on a patient’s photos, or select from a library of educational content, to help patients visualize what goes on before, during, and after surgery. This can help build patient confidence and add intrinsic value to the consultation.

In addition, if the EMR system employs the latest advances in cloud computing and tablet workflow, doctors can spend more time being doctors and less time with data entry and filing.

So why are there still so many holdouts? The biggest fear is a potential practice upheaval for the staff, and cost of implementation. Yes, there will be a learning curve, same as there is with your new liposuction device, but that wouldn’t stop you from offering the procedure. The good news is that these systems are becoming increasingly intuitive, making adoption more seamless, and in the long term, they do save money.

Tim A. Sayed, MD, FACS, is the medical director for EMA Plastic Surgery and EMA Cosmetic Surgery at Modernizing Medicine. He is also a plastic surgeon in private practice in Broward County and Palm Beach, Florida. He can be reached via [email protected].