Patient Portals Play into the Long-term Success of Health Organizations Seeking Patient Engagement

KLAS EnterprisesAccording to a recent report issued by KLAS Research, “Patient Portals 2012: The Path of Least Resistance,” published by HIT Trends health systems and practices are turning to patient portals more than ever before. Meaningful use is an obvious reason, but convenience and “the ease of integration that comes from having an established relationship with an EHR vendor are the primary factors providers use to choose a patient portal.”

In light of the expanding need of patient portals, the KLAS study focused on solutions that providers use, and what role the portals play in the long-term strategies each organization for patient engagement. The report included respondents from a mix of health systems, hospitals, and clinics.

“Providers are feeling increased pressure to engage with their patients at deeper levels than ever before. About one-half of interviewed providers already had a portal in place, primarily from their current EHR vendor. Providers needing to connect a number of disparate EHRs were the only group more likely to opt for a best-of-breed solution.”

“The existing EHR vendor relationship appears to be more important than any other factor when choosing a patient portal,” said report author Mark Allphin. “While functionality and ease of use are important to providers, they take a backseat compared to providers’ desire to manage fewer vendors and interfaces.”

Although many providers are choosing to stay with incumbent EHR-based patient portals, KLAS did report significant interest and engagement with third-party vendors.

Access to the patient clinical record is the most implemented function. Other functions in place or planned include: appointment scheduling, provider messaging, bill pay, online registration and patient education.

Of those interviewed for the report, 57 percent of providers surveyed report a patient portal in place.

According to Michael Lake, publisher of the monthly healthcare IT newsletter, HIT Trends sums up the report this way: “Providers are putting patient portals in place to meet meaningful use requirements for access and messaging. Some are looking at kiosks and mobile solutions, too. In single EHR organizations, using portals from their current vendor makes tactical sense. Niche solutions may fare better when providers look at long-term strategies and required functionalities.”

From my perspective, and probably yours, serious portal conversations have taken place for about the last three years, and with the mandates of meaningful use, it was only a matter of time before they started to proliferate the market.

Even as practices look to engage their patients more, portals will likely be the first tool considered to do so. As the report suggests, the biggest question here may be whether to add a portal from your current vendor or to find a third-party solution.

Are you going through a portal implementation? What’s your strategy going to be?

No Surprise Here: Healthcare Mobile Technology is Changing the Industry

There’s no surprise that healthcare mobile technology is changing the industry. The movement has been underway for as long as the technology has allowed, and as the technology becomes more sophisticated, so do the ways the technology gets used.

In a recent annual research study by the Manhattan Group published by HIT Consultant, we continue to get a much clearer picture of how the U.S. physicians are using the Internet and mobile technologies in the workplace.

For the study, called “Taking the Pulse 2012,” 3,015 physicians in 25 specialties were surveyed.

Here are some of the high points.

In the United States, more than 85 percent of physicians use smartphones in the practice setting. This is up from 81 percent in 2011 and up from 72 percent in 2010. That’s 13-point jump in use of the devices in two years, but really, the number is not surprising. The devices help physicians in multiple ways, personally and professionally, there’s little doubt the increased use will continue and grow.

Next up: Tablet adoption among physicians has nearly doubled in the last years from 35 percent to 62 percent from 2011 to 2012. Clearly, that’s amazing. Of those, more than 80 percent are iPads.

Of all the tablets being used by physicians, more than half have used them at the point of care.

Regarding patient interaction and engagement, according to the Manhattan Group, 39 percent of practicing physicians communicate with patients via electronic means including email, secure messaging, instant messaging or video conferencing.

Personally, that number is higher than I expected, but it’s obviously only to grow much larger, especially as patient portals are implemented and meaningful use stage 2 looming.

Physicians also spend an average of 11 per week online for professional purposes, and those with three screens available to them – smartphone, laptop and desktop — spent more time in front of those screens than did their counterparts with just one or two screens.

What does all this data mean? You don’t need me to tell you that healthcare mobile technology is growing. It’s clearly safe to say that those of us (I’ll put myself in this group) that say healthcare is way behind the rest of society in technology use may not be able to make this claim any/much longer.

Mobile device use is exploding in all areas of our lives; healthcare is no exception. Physicians, like the rest of society, are seeing the benefits of the technology and taking steps to implement these devices into their work lives.

I believe we’re getting to the point where healthcare mobile technology will finally surpass the age of electronic health records and the shift in conversation will center around mobile health.

Like the conversations we been having for years about market/vendor contraction, the same goes for mobile health in that we’ve been talking about it for some time. Well, unlike vendor contraction, the days of mhealth are upon us and we’re seeing how a technology actually is changing a profession.

Taking the Pulse 2012

The Benefits of EHRs: Marketing Speak or Reality?

A special day here today; time to reflect on the direction of one’s life and its path. The past, its present and the future. It’s a hard process sometimes to think about where one has come from and, and most difficulty, where one is going; where one wants to go.

My time off the grid today was spent with those that matter most, because I could. Left it all behind and felt like I went back in time before technology placed me in the always on mentality. It felt nice taking the time to focus on other priorities and spending time disconnected.

Have to admit, the time away did make me think about life back on the ranch, though. Specifically, the promises told of health IT and how they make the lives of those who use the systems in their professional lives better, easier and efficient.

It might be a bit cliché by now, but during my time serving the health IT industry and its professional partners, I’ve told and been told countless times how systems like EHRs allow physicians to practice more effectively in a shorter amount of time and essentially lock up shop within minutes after the final patient has left.

In fact, I’ve seen testimonials by clients of one vendor say nearly this exact thing, and I understand from personal experience that this can be an actualized reality if a proper plan is put in place and a procedure is established for getting there.

And, just recently, in this forum, I featured Dr. David DeShan who is now able to follow his dream of heading up a medical mission in Russia while also maintaining his partnership at a practice in Texas, all because of his EHR.

So, despite all of the marketing speak and the canned comments, the question is: Do these healthcare technologies actually allow providers a better quality of life?

Are you able to hit the road a lot sooner now that you have a system in place or are you just a workaholic and despite the tools you have you’ll always find a way to work more than you should?

Does health IT make your lives easier? Are you able to spend more time with loved ones or more time on the links? Are you more flexible and able to live a richer more fulfilling life because of your technology or is it all wishful thinking as far of you are concerned?

Finally, have you been able to create more balance between work and personal life since you implemented your system and implemented equipment like tablet PCs or has access to work information while on the run been that more pressure on you to perform.

My situation is different, obviously. I simply turn off my computer and ignore my phone. I’m not in the business of saving lives; I just help people and companies tell their stories.

I’d love to know, once and for all, does it really matter or are these “potential” benefits just a bunch of marketing speak?

Reaping the Rewards of a Mobile Health Technology Environment

Patients are not the only ones who will become more engaged as mobile devices continue to infiltrate healthcare; physicians, too, are reaping the so-called rewards.

As the debate continues to rage about the efficiencies created when EHRs are used in a practice setting, there seems to be little argument as to whether tablet PCs, smart phones and even applications like Skype actually improve the business of communication and interaction with patients and their physician partners and physicians with their colleagues.

A physician whom I very much respect, Dr. David DeShan, is one such physician who communicates with patients and colleagues via Skype from his mission outpost in Moscow, Russia.

Spending weeks at a time in Russia each year, he also maintains his status as a partner and practicing physician at a growing OBGYN clinic in Midland, Texas. As an early adopter of the virtual visit, DeShan is able to maintain contact with his patients if they need a consult, and he’s also able to maintain his connection to his practice so he can check labs, review diagnosis and provide counsel to his practice mates should they request it.

By his own admission, he works a full-time practice schedule from abroad in addition to his full schedule as the leader of a  major international mission. By partnering Skype and his EHR, DeShan is essentially a full-time practicing physician without a need to be restricted by the brick and mortar location of his practice. At the same time, he’s able to dedicate himself to his medical mission work in Russia and serve individuals throughout the world’s largest country in places that would never receive even the most primitive of care without him and his network of medical volunteers.

But, I digress. I’ll save DeShan’s story for another day.

The point I’m trying to make is in support of CDW Healthcare’s article “Momentum Surges for mHealth,” which cites a recent IDC Health Insights observation that shows clinicians use more than six mobile devices in the care setting each day.

Accordingly, as the mobile world continues to open new opportunities in all aspects of life, physicians, like all of us, know that they will come to rely more on these devices to practice, communicate and collaborate.

Clinicians and practice leaders continue to embrace the devices in the care setting, and they expect practices to allow them in their work. When technology delivers upon its promise and actually makes life easier, it is obviously going to be supported and used, like DeShan has done with Skype.

The technology helps him bridge gaps and essentially eliminate a half-the-world-away gap between himself and his practice. But, in some places, there are policies in place to inhibit this type of care offering. (Policies in opposition to this type of approach should be considered archaic and simply regrettable.)

The CDW piece goes on to state that according to a University of Chicago School Medicine study, providing tablet PCs to residents actually reduced patient wait times in hospitals. Likewise, the study found that the same residents did not have to look for an open computer for medical charting and actually allowed the residents to spend more time with patients.

Novel concept. Technology working as promised. Not so unbelievable when spelled out so clearly as this.

As I said, mobile health will continue to grow in popularity. If internal policies are not supported and encouraged, you’ll quickly find yourself in a BYOD environment, which is not such a bad thing.

In fact, if it develops or if you’re unable to support your own internal mobile device initiative, set some rules and let it bloom.

According to CDW, “You need to establish and enforce policies for mobile users including setting up passwords, separating personal from corporate data on devices … and you need to educate users on how to securely use mobile devices.”

For a more exacting plan to deal with BYOD, take a look at the following piece: Creating a BYOD Plan Protects Your Practice and Your Employees.

When managing a population that’s more likely to use or own a mobile device like a tablet PC than the rest of the consumer population, the infiltration is well underway so it’s time to begin reaping your mobile rewards.

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.