Dr. Nasir Ali in Sarnia, Ontario

The Situation

“Only an EMR that delivers maximum flexibility and customization can help a specialized medical clinic realize its full potential,” says Dr. Nasir Ali, an internist and cardiologist in Sarnia, Ontario. That’s why he chose ABELMed EHR-EMR/PM software in early 2010. It helps his expanding practice provide comprehensive care, including cardiac rehabilitation, to his patients.

Dr. Ali opened the practice in 1993 and sees more than 250 patients per month, drawing from a community of about 155,000 people in southwestern Ontario’s Sarnia, Lambton and Petrolia areas.

An early advocate of electronic medical records and a task force member of his hospital’s information management committee, Dr. Ali believes that ABELMed EMR helps him provide continuity of care and structured follow-up by allowing him to track his patients’ medical status at every stage of their progress.

The Challenge

Tracking the medical status of his patients wasn’t always so easy. For many years, Dr. Ali used paper for his patient records and computers were used only for billing and some administrative tasks, like scheduling.

“The paper load and the work schedule got heavier and heavier, until things became overwhelming,” says Dr. Ali. “We realized that the only way to run a successful practice, while keeping up with day-to-day demands, would be to have all of a patient’s clinical and administrative records easily accessible and in one place.”

“With our older paper-based system,” he continues, “patient histories and test results tended to be compartmentalized throughout the office. For example, demographic information would be stored directly in the patient’s paper file while specific medical data, such as test results, might be kept elsewhere until after the patient’s visit. We maintained good paper records over the years, but as the charts grew bigger and older, it became more difficult to look up important information--let alone review it in chronological order.”

The Solution

In 2009, Dr. Ali and his team decided to move to an EMR solution. “I really needed to integrate all of our patient information so that everything could be found in one place,” he says. “I wanted to call up the information in one or two keystrokes while consulting with patients. From the perspectives of both clinical and practice management, installing an EMR was the only way to go.”

“We always knew we would install an EMR in our practice at some point,” he recalls. “We were preparing long before the actual installation of ABELMed. Over the preceding five years, we collected a considerable amount of clinical data and built a solid knowledge base on a different system, but it soon reached maximum capacity. One of the reasons we ultimately chose ABEL’s solution was how easily it imported that database, integrating it tightly with a broad array of other patient information.”

In addition to ABEL’s ability to customize an EMR solution for his practice type and size, Dr. Ali says he wanted to partner with a vendor that had a history of business success in Ontario.

“We looked for a partner who was able to craft a customized solution for our practice, someone who would be in business over the long term and have software that would grow and evolve,” says Dr. Ali. “Other vendors I researched had some strengths but had limited business models and seemed to be more difficult to work with -- they lacked the depth of flexibility offered by ABEL. And so I believe it was an excellent business decision to deploy ABELMed.”

The Relationship

During the time that Dr. Ali and his staff have used the system, they have learned and mastered its various practice enhancing features and capabilities. Dr. Ali says that he, personally, didn’t need a lot of early training because he already understood the basics of how EMRs function. However, his administrative staff received highly structured instruction from ABELMed trainers, learning the software’s nuances.

“You cannot have training to learn an EMR’s capabilities until you know what you want to achieve,” says the doctor. “So unless you are clear on what you want the trainers to do for you and what your objectives are, you will not receive full benefit from the training. Fortunately for us, we received great advice and support from ABEL throughout the whole training process and continue today to have a solid business relationship.”

Overall, Dr. Ali adds, that he finds ABEL trainers and customer service staff to be very helpful, responsive and able to answer questions quickly and efficiently. “From my perspective, ABEL has an excellent corporate strategy for serving its customers well,” he explains. “The company’s software developers and support staff understand the marketplace and have organized themselves very differently from other vendors in the EMR space.”

The Result

Implementing ABELMed EMR has been a real plus for Dr. Ali and currently his practice is about 90 per cent electronic. However, he still has to use paper files when there is no alternative. “Paper is such a fact of life; you can’t get away from it totally,” he admits. “Still, I look forward to the day when all physicians and medical institutions begin to move toward an electronic system to automate the entire process of maintaining patient records. It would be easier for everyone. I’m encouraged that this is starting to happen now at a much faster pace since many doctors are realizing the benefits of an EMR to their own practice.”

Dr Ali adds that he did finally have to spend some extra time learning the finer points of the system. “I’ve become more and more proficient with ABELMed,” he says. “We, as a team, are at a point where we are now up to the same speed that we were with the old paper charts. It’s not because electronically it takes more time. It’s because you have to change and adapt to a new process. But the pay-off in the long-term is great and well worth the investment.”

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