Patients Want Electronic Interaction with Their Physicians, but Not Sure How to Get It

Those who conceived and brought meaningful use to life can apparently chalk up another victory, according to a new survey conducted by Accenture.

As told by For the Record, patients overwhelming want access not only to their medical records and personal health information through connected devices (mobile or otherwise), but they also want direct electronic access to their physicians.

By “access to their physicians,” I mean they want to interact with their caregivers through web portals and email. Actually, respondents of this survey (88 percent) said they want to receive email appointment reminders from their physicians, while 76 percent of survey takers said they want the option of email consultations directly with their physicians.

Enter the patient portal. Secure, web-based portals that, for most EHR systems, allow patients the opportunity to interact directly with their physicians, view lab results (in certain non-overly sensitive cases), schedule appointments and make payments, among other things. The same patient portals that are required ingredients of meaningful use certified EHR systems.

Despite the arguments over the benefits or lack thereof of meaningful use, the requirement that EHRs contain patient portals so patients and their caregivers can interact with each other seems to be giving the patients exactly what they want.

In the very least, at least according to the results of this survey, patients are more likely to engage with physicians and take greater ownership of their care if they are simply allowed to communicate with their doctors electronically.

And given the seemingly current lack of patient engagement that’s prevalent in our healthcare community, anything that sparks interest in patients should be considered a welcome sign to every healthcare professional. After all, patient engagement will continue to become more popular as consumers take greater ownership of their care as they discover that their healthcare providers are actually easier to access because of electronic health records and patient portals.

Unfortunately, however, the average patient doesn’t know whether his physician offers a practice portal or if the practice uses an EHR as fewer than half of the 1,100 survey participants in the Accenture study didn’t know whether they had access to such systems.

Despite this minor detail, there’s plenty in this survey to celebrate. Specifically, patients clearly want to access their health records electronically and they want to be able to connect with their physicians when they want or need through any connected device wherever they are in the world.

The other good news here, for practice professionals anyway, is that there is plenty of room for and an abundance of opportunity to educate patients about a practice’s internal technology systems. Patients clearly want to know more about the technology their physicians are using in their practices.

If you don’t currently have these systems in place, engaging patients is a great way to find out what they might like to see from you in the future and, if nothing else, the information gathered helps you build and develop your practice and tailor it to your customer’s needs.

Conflicting Electronic Health Records Studies Support Similar Conclusions

In conflicting reports recently released by two separate healthcare publications, the benefits and success of meaningfully using EHRs is debated with one publication citing its success while the other notes EHRs alone do not improve care, though, if certain steps are taken by providers, outcomes could be better.

The conflicting data from each report really comes as no surprise. What is a bit surprising, though, is that each report provides valid and tangible information that seems to support a similar conclusion.

For example, according to Becker’s Spine Review’s article featuring the report, “Meaningful Use of Electronic Health Record Systems and Process Quality of Care,” meaningfully using electronic health record improves hospital care quality.

In fact, citing the report again here, “hospitals with primitive or limited IT that upgraded to an EHR system satisfying Stage 1 meaningful use objectives saw a significant improvement in healthcare delivery.”

The study was designed to report whether hospitals that implemented and used EHRs meaningfully actually saw improved healthcare outcomes. Apparently, they did, at least in quality measures for heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care infection prevention.

The study’s findings seem to tell a somewhat stunning story, frankly: “Hospitals transitioning to EHR systems to meet the meaningful use Stage 1 requirements saw statistically significant improvements in the outcomes for conditions of heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia. The improvements varied depending on hospital baseline quality performance, with low-quality hospitals seeing the largest improvements in quality.”

So, in other words, healthcare systems implementing EHRs saw the greatest improvement from their previous systems, which I assume is paper.

But wait; let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. According to The Health Care Blog’s piece “EHR Adoption Alone Does Not Guarantee Quality Care,” adopting a meaningful use EHR system does not automatically improve care. The ability to house the data is important, but it’s obviously just the first step in a long process. Perhaps with some work, desired (but not guaranteed) results may be achieved.

According the authors the THCB piece, to fully engage an EHR in the care process and improve health outcomes, more pre-visit work is needed to understand all of a patient’s potential health needs then care givers must take what’s learned, plant it in the system to better serve the patient in the future. Pretty basic, but true, I assume, since the EHR isn’t going to do it by itself.

The next step, according to the blog, is to encourage practice leaders to sub-categorize patients into groups with like conditions to track their health within the population. This should allow for physicians and practice leaders to see how the health among specific populations of the practice is improving or declining. Again, simple enough, and something easily enough done with virtually any EHR currently on the market.

Other advice offered by the blog’s authors to physicians is to participate in local, national and regional care quality measures and initiatives, and compare best practices and care outcomes with other professionals to continue honing their crafts and learning new initiatives and providing innovate care.

Finally, and most importantly (and I agree with THCB on this one), involve patients in their care. Engage patients from the beginning and draw them into their care plans and they’ll likely engage in their health for life.

So, ultimately, the differing points of view from these two reports seem to support the same argument: meaningfully using an EHR allows for the potential of better healthcare outcomes, but achieving better outcomes doesn’t necessarily come from simply having the system.

Additional work is required to get the most of out of the data that goes into it, even if that means committing more to the actual care process, connecting with peers and colleagues to employ innovation and involving patients to ensure what goes into the EHR is everything it should be: meaningful, useful and helpful.

Reasons for Physicians to Use Social Media In Healthcare

As in all areas of life, social media also permeates healthcare. As practice leaders, hospitals and facilities, and providers wrestle with strategies for capitalizing on the communication forum, some have found success while others continue to struggle.

For each person that has made the attempt, though, valuable experiences have been gained, some worth sharing.

Such is the case for Mike Sevilla, MD. Sevilla is a blogger who provides perspective through the eyes of a family medical practitioner. He was recently featured by Power Your Practice in a post titled “6 Ways Physicians Can Leverage Social Media.”

In the piece, Sevilla offers advice to physicians about the need to engage in regular and ongoing social media activities.

Physicians, he says, must begin to interact with patients and the public through a variety of social channels including blogs for no other reason than because patients are beginning to demand it. Without the outside the office interactions, patients begin to disengage from their physicians and seek alternative sources who are willing to meet them where the live.

Seville offers a few compelling reasons for physicians and their practices to engage socially, including:

There are a few things Sevilla fails to mention in the piece, though.

For example, social media is more than about building one’s own brand and developing recognition for one’s own efforts. Engaging in social media is about creating relationships with others; specifically, patients.

As such, when using social media tools in the healthcare setting, you must stay close to your customers. Social media can, and should, be used to generate conversations with the public and build relationships with those you are serving. In doing so, you gain ground in each of the areas Sevilla mentions above.

In addition, physicians and practice leaders may consider using social media as an educational tool for patients. With less than 10 minutes of face time with a physician on average, patients can turn to their social media tools to learn more about a certain procedure, to ask generalized questions or to learn how the practice’s online patient portal, appointment setting or how billing and payment processes work.

Also, consider using your Twitter feed to ask questions of your patients. Conduct informal surveys asking for feedback about visit times, practice hours or services offered. Set up a weekly or monthly lunch-hour Twitter chat where a physician takes generic questions from the public or set aside a week each month to provide health and wellness tips about certain conditions.

The results of these efforts may surprise you. And soon, you’ll discover that conversations on social media are two way rather than one sided. Perhaps you’ll even have your own strategies to share.

Should You Replace Your EHR?

In what appears to be an extension of yesterday’s post, today I want to examine some questions posed by Success EHS, which asks, “Should you replace your EHR?”

As you most likely know, most large enterprise ambulatory practices and hospital systems have well-established EHR systems in place. They are clearly recognized as among the early adopters of electronic health records, and, compared to their small counterparts, are also the most likely healthcare facilities to currently be in the market for an alternative EHR.

In the age of meaningful use, in a time where healthcare technology is also known as the electronic health record, the systems are being replaced with great frequency. The why and what fors are pretty simple to figure out if you’re familiar with the technology and the marketplace.

There are several prevailing reasons practices are jumping systems, though. They include (and I’m citing Success EHS here):

• Lack of strong vendor support
• Lagging product development
• Consolidation of disparate solutions
• Systems fail to live up to vendors claims
• EHR hinders efficiency and productivity

Given these hurdles – there may be others, of course – there are several questions practice administration must ask to determine whether it’s time to move.

Some of these questions include (feel free to grab a pen and paper and add to the list):

• Are issues able to be solved through remediation? No? Might be time to hit the road.
• Can the vendor’s technical improvements resolve any issues? If so, you need to ask that fixes be made in a reasonable timeframe. Obviously, telling said vendor that fixes need to be made “ASAP” won’t do; you must be reasonable. Consider negotiating a term of three to six months and get final terms in writing. Anything more than six months and it might be time to pack up and leave.
• Are you partially responsible for the EHR’s issues? If you’re partially or fully at fault for a botched EHR implementation or for poor usage, you owe it to yourself, your staff, your patients and, yes, to your vendor to work out a solution. If you’ve tried every solution and there’s no fix, you may be forced to move on. Some times it’s a matter of agreeing to disagree, let’s just agree on that.
• Do you have an opt-out clause? If so, you may wish to exercise it. If not, you’re going to pay, probably handsomely, to exit stage right.
• Are your current long-term goals going to be met using your current EHR? If not, you need to change your goals or change your system.
• Is your EHR negatively impacting practice efficiency? Success EMS says it best, “An EHR that hampers productivity now will only grow worse as the complexities of health reform initiatives increase in the future.”

If you decide it’s time to implement a new EHR system then it’s time to create an assessment plan. Assessments are designed to answer the “why” of implementing an EHR, and what is working and can be improved by installing one.

You can learn more about those here: Assess Your Practice’s EHR Readinesss and Plan Your Implementation.

Assess Your Practice’s EHR Readiness and Plan Your Implementation

In taking a look around the HealthIT.gov site recently, I once again stumbled upon its series dedicated to offering practices insight into how to implement an EHR. A several part series, topics included cover what to look for when selecting a product, how to conduct training and, ultimately, how to reach meaningful use.

Given that nearly 50 percent of all practices currently have some sort of EHR, the process for setting up and implementing the systems are becoming more well known; however, having a clear plan and getting a little advice goes a long way.

So, without further ado, the following information is valuable and bears repeating, at least in part, even if you heard some of it before.

First steps

When starting an EHR implementation, a practice should assess its wants and needs. Keep in mind that no implementation is going to go completely smoothly (or at least as smoothly as imagined) so it helps to have a plan for what to expect and the plan should include room for error. Figure 10 to 15 percent in added time, resources and staff commitment over and above what you originally plan.

During the assessment, there will be some error and a few hurdles to jump. Don’t allow yourself to be told otherwise. If someone tries to tell you differently, that person does not have your best interest in mind.

If it’s a vendor, run. Do not purchase the product from the company because it’s only the beginning of what’s likely to be a long road of misinformation and false expectations. And no one appreciates being snowed, especially when you’re spending money on something.

Asking yourself questions

During the assessment phase, you also need to determine if you are even ready to implement a system, and if not, what more you need to accomplish. Assessments are designed to answer the “why” of implementing an EHR, and what is working and can be improved by installing one.

According to HealthIT.gov, “practice leadership and staff should consider the practice’s clinical goals, needs, financial and technical readiness as they transition.”

The site provides the following questions that practice leaders should consider during the process:

What will the future look like?

Next up, it’s time to envision the future. Think about what you want to accomplish with an EHR, and write as part of your plan some things like: how are patients going to benefit, how can the care provided be better and how are providers’ lives going to change?

Finally, set some goals. According to HeathIT.gov, “goals and needs should be documented to help guide decision-making throughout the implementation process. And they may need to be re-assessed throughout the EHR implementation to ensure a smooth transition for the practice and all staff.”

Goals guide an EHR implementation, and are set once an assessment has been completed. As in life, goals provide an achievable end to an arduous task; the medal at the end of the race, if you will.

When developing goals for the implementation forgo conclusions like trying to determine what amount of savings will be created or how much of an increase in the number of patients or revenue will come into the practice. For now, these are intangible and often create a sense of failure if not immediately met after the EHR is “turned on.”

Keep the goals more process oriented and related to practice strategy and team building.  For example, what goal do you have for the transition team? Do leaders emerge? Do advocates and coaches come to the forefront of the team that you had not expected? What practice visions are realized? Are you now more technologically savvy and able to attract better talent to the organization?

Perhaps you have business goals (other than the aforementioned money goals). Do you have a stronger business-planning process and clearer organization objectives now?

Perhaps.

No Surprise Here, Physicians Use Healthcare Technology Less than Others in the Practice Setting

If physicians use healthcare technology so much less than practice administrators and others in the average practice with these implemented systems, why do they continue to receive so much of the marketing and pre-sales attention from vendors and others in HIT community?

All healthcare vendors take a similar approach with physicians as they jostle for a lane at the front of the race. They gear their public-facing collateral and educational materials to physicians knowing all the while that they also must woo practice administrators and support staff. Rarely, though, is there any effort put into publicly promoting healthcare technology systems to non-physicians nor is there much effort behind celebrating non-physician care givers and administrators as the industry’s leading users of HIT.

It should come as no surprise that non-physician practice employees, such as RNs and PAs, use the systems like electronic health records, much more than their physician counterparts, on average. But, for whatever reason, HIT messaging is all about the physician and continues to be tailored to these mascots and figureheads within practices and healthcare settings.

EHR Watch’s editor, Jeff Rowe, recently published a blog post about the amount of time physicians use healthcare technology as opposed to their in-practice colleagues like RNs and PAs.

In his succinct summation PAs and RNs spend more time online for professional purposes than physicians; during consultations, PAs and RNs leverage mobile applications more at the point of care than physicians; and, in his words, “PAs and RNs use pharma or biotech websites more frequently than physicians and are more interested in using pharma features on electronic health record systems (EHRs).”

If physicians spend most of their time seeing patients and administering care, there’s nothing shocking about this data. It’s a good thing; they need to be seeing patients, not playing around on their computers.

However, this information should validate what everyone in healthcare already knows: Physicians are not the only ones using healthcare technology, and more can be done to include healthcare’s other care providers (and leaders) in the conversation about the technology and how it affects business and patient care outcomes.

The data Rowe provides also should encourage practices to continue including non-physician team members in the selection process of new technology if they are not already doing so because, clearly, though physicians are experts in providing care, they are not always the experts in using a practice’s technology solutions.

EHRs Interfere with Patient Care? Some Physicians Say So

Does healthcare technology actually interfere with patient care? Apparently so, according to a new study commissioned by athenahealth.

“Overburdened” physicians face pressures from continual government “intervention,” “increased use of and frustration with EHRs” and “administrative burdens.”

According to the study, physicians are disenfranchised.

Why? Well, according to athena’s study, there’s too much change. Perhaps that’s a bit of a blunt summation, but it seems to be the picture the study paints.

Nearly half the physicians interviewed for the study said electronic health records were not designed with the physician in mind while nearly two-thirds said the EHRs take away from their ability to engage with patients.

Some of this is obviously subjective opinion. Of course, there’s really no way to measure whether or not patients feel put off by their doctors entering data during the visit. On the contrary, there are plenty of reports to suggest that patients actually appreciate that doctors use an EHR during the visit.

However, from the eye of the beholder (physicians), they’re the ones sitting in the practice day after day getting a feel for the moods of their patients in the exam room once the keyboard comes out.

Sadly, the conclusion they have come to as a collective population is that EHRs are significantly reducing the quality of care patients receive. Again, this is filled with opinion, but if it’s the mood conveyed, that mood is bound to rub off on the patient population and will affect their perception of the technology, too.

These same physicians – more than 80 percent of physicians in the study – also feel the future of the independent practice is not viable, and more than two thirds feel the quality of care will greatly diminish over the next five years because of all these continuous distractions, including technology’s pervasiveness in the practice space.

This is stark “reality” for the profession from the mouths of its professionals.

Interestingly, in a completely unrelated study by recruiting firm Jackson Healthcare, more than a third of private practitioners say they will quit private practice within the next 10 years because of “declining reimbursement, capitation, and unprofitable practice; business complexities and hassles; overhead and cost of doing business too high.”

Where they’ll likely end up is obvious: in a hospital setting or in a hospital-owned practice. Why leave? They said they fear economic factors facing private practice (the first reason given) and they don’t want to practice in the age of reform (second response), which may be quite difficult given the current climate of healthcare.

What does all of this eye-opening information mean?

Well, it doesn’t bode well for those concerned about the ever increasing shortage of healthcare providers.

Perhaps more troublesome, though, is that no matter how much time is spent educating and informing certain segments of the healthcare population, there are always going to be many who remain unconvinced that technology produces practice efficiencies and helps lead to better care outcomes.

Patient Engagement Requires More than Speaking Their Language

Patient engagement will continue to become more popular as consumers take greater ownership of their care and begin to discover that their health information should actually be easier to access because of electronic health records and patient portals. However, patients must have reason to engage for this trend to become less of a trickle and more of a flood.

Healthcare technology is meant to allow more access to, and increase the availability of, patient’s health information. At least that’s one of the desired outcomes of the push (meaningful use and federal incentives) to lure physicians to adapt the systems.

Sterling Lanier, CEO of Tonic Health, succinctly sums up lack of patient engagement in a recent editorial published by For the Record magazine.

In it, he states that healthcare, like government, is filled with vernacular and jargon – HIEs, EHRs, ACOs, HIT, et al. – and the more these terms continue to be used, the less likely patient consumers are going to interact and engage with the healthcare community, and to take ownership of their own care outcomes.

As Lanier notes, and as I have often thought, to bring patients into the conversation, they have to be treated like consumers and they must have a reason to “buy” into the system. In this case, consumers must “buy” the information given to them. If they buy and own it, they’ll want more of it, or so goes the prevailing thought.

But simply speaking in terms the natives will understand isn’t enough. Consumers need to better understand how the technology they encounter at the doctor’s office helps produce better care outcomes. They may need some education and certainly they need some engagement once the systems are in place and being used during the visit.

Though patients will interact with the EHR less frequently than other technology they encounter, such as the patient portal (which they can actually use and interact with on their own), that doesn’t mean the EHR should be ignored during the interaction or treated as a foreign concept. In most cases, let’s remember, healthcare is actually behind many other consumer markets so consumers are actually more versed in the use and capabilities of similar systems outside their doctor’s office. Besides, we’re like children with devices and must test drive things like smart phones, televisions and computers as we learn to use them; we like to get our hands on the technology to try it out to satisfy our child-like need to see with our hands.

Even though patients can’t “touch” their EHRs, we can watch the information we provide our doctors being entered into the system; we can speak with our caregivers as they toggle and tab; and we can engage clinicians as they review our profiles and medical records. As a patient of a doctor with an EHR, I ask questions about the system: what it does, who makes it, why it was chosen and if it layout closely resembles the clinics’ past paper charts. I feel better about the little details and doing so makes me feel as though my doctor is listening to me during the visit.

Asking me these questions engages me more in my healthcare, and more than likely, engages my doctor in my care and outcomes.

And the Medal Goes to … GE Healthcare

The Olympics always inspire me. They are one of most fantastic human events to witness, including the obvious sportsmanship; athletes overcoming obstacles; the sheer passion displayed by those competing in the field; the pain and joy of the athletes; shots of their family’s responses to the competition; and the personal stories and exposition about overcoming the odds.

Despite the haul of medals taken by the likes of swimmers Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin, the U.S. women’s gold in gymnastics and Serena Williams in tennis, other Olympic contributors will leave London without any hardware, but perhaps having just as much impact.

Healthcare technology continues to invade nearly every aspect of life, and the Olympics are not immune. One of the most notable appearances of HIT in the games has been by GE Healthcare. Actually, from my recollection, GE has been the only game in town during the greatest human competition on the planet.

What GE has done so well during the games is connect its products with consumers. Through a series of informative commercials, those of us on the sidelines have been able to learn how GE’s systems help keep the games clean, how they help identify and localize athletes’ injuries and potentially help treat injuries more quickly, and finally, how the systems actually help us in our lives anywhere we may be.

For example, we are also able to see how GE’s healthcare technology is being used to change lives, as is the case of its commercial about the technology serving an East London hospital’s pediatrics unit.

The stories featured in GE’s commercials are compelling for a couple of reasons, primarily because GE is the only technology vendor talking about how its products change the lives of real patients, but also because GE is taking the healthcare technology conversation to people who never would have otherwise engaged or thought about technology in healthcare without the commercials.

Consumers are not often engaged in conversations about the benefits of the machines and software they encounter during trips to the hospital or while meeting an iPad screen in their physician’s office.

Most patients have no idea what the letters “EHR” stand for. Those of us in healthcare technology seem to forget that; we pollute our own well, if you will. We get so enamored with the industry, its terms, its regulations and its advancements that we forget there is a whole world out there, that we eventually must try to sell to, that doesn’t know the first thing about technology or its purpose in healthcare.

Prior to my joining the EHR vendor space, I only knew things like, “That big tube thingy take pictures of my insides,” and “The jumping green line on the electronic graph means my heart works …”

But, those of us in the HIT community like to talk technology, and if we can’t find someone in the real world to listen, we talk to ourselves, which brings me back to GE.

If for no other reason than to educate consumers of the importance of healthcare technology and how it can impact something as mainstream as the Olympics, the company at least brought the conversation to the public and met consumers in their world rather than simply ignoring it like so many others, and that’s admirable.

Another Day, Another EHR Survey

Another day, another EHR survey, and once again it’s about the security of information contained in electronic health records.

Apparently, according to this latest survey, more needs to be done to educate patient consumers of the value of the healthcare technology they encounter in their physician’s offices even though more than 50 percent of respondents said they feel EHRs are better than paper charts. Specifically, in this survey patients feel their personal information contained in the EHR is vulnerable to security breaches or hackers.

The data captured in this survey is not surprising, nor is it anything new. In fact, the following statement came from an April 2011 survey I administered for a major healthcare software vendor and announced to the press:

“While both physicians and patients believe that EHR will help improve the quality of healthcare, both groups have concerns about privacy and the security of EHR.” – April 26, 2011.

Though many people think the burden of educating the public about the benefit of EHRs should be placed on physicians, I disagree with this stance.

Physicians, frankly, are consumers of EHRs, just as patients are. It’s an unfair burden to put a group of consumers in the position of advocates for products they pay to use. In what other commercial industry do the manufacturers and retailers of products leave the education of the product to consumer? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t think of any.

The burden of educating consumers about the value and importance of EHRs should fall to the EHR vendors. After all, the vendors are the experts of their products’ capabilities, not the physicians. Automatically electing physicians into this role is unfair.

When I represented an EHR vendor, we brought our message to physicians and patients. Get patients to realize the value of EHRs and you drive them to persuade their physicians to adopt the systems. Our stance meant we held ourselves responsible for educating the market about our EHRs’ capabilities. We didn’t feel that it was right to put our physician clients in the position of becoming product advocates unless they wanted to be. Advocating our products was our job.

As patients become more familiar with EHRs, they will fear them less, just as happened with online banking and shopping. Familiarity and comfort with these systems have changed and so have consumers’ perception of them; the same will ultimately happen for EHRs.