Technology Can Help Small Practices Manage Quality Assurance

Tom Giannulli MD, MS
Tom Giannulli

Guest post by Tom Giannulli, MD, MS, chief medical information officer, Kareo

Quality assurance (QA) in healthcare is exactly what the name implies — the process of implementing programs to improve and assure quality care for patients. In a hospital, these programs are often quite robust and monitored closely, but in a small practice, the picture can be quite different.

Smaller practices have limited resources and staff. There is already a huge burden to stay compliant in so many areas while keeping up changes to reimbursement and other programs like meaningful use. Often, there isn’t much time left over for QA.

Unfortunately, measuring and monitoring patient satisfaction and outcomes is becoming more important as reimbursement shifts to a more value-based model and patient expectations change. Whereas patients once stayed with the same doctor forever, now the majority would change providers for a wide range of reasons. While 80 percent of healthcare providers think that patients depart because of relocation or change in insurance, the reality is far different. Nearly 60 percent of patients switch physicians because of better service or treatment from a new provider.

For practices that are stretched for time, dollars and staff, technology can play a valuable role in improving the patient experience, compliance, and outcomes. Ultimately as the industry shifts to value-based reimbursement it can also help the practice improve revenue. Here’s how:

1. Practice marketing solutions can help you quickly and easily survey patients to identify areas of concern. Then, you can continue to provide an email or text follow up survey after patient visits to monitor how the practice is doing at improving these issues.

2. An EHR can help in several ways. First, it provides preventive and chronic care recommendations so providers don’t miss anything. For diabetes patients, the provider will get a trigger reminding him or her to do a foot check. For a 50-year-old adult there will be a reminder to do a colonoscopy. The template can also trigger providers to ask key questions to qualify for Meaningful Use and pay-for-performance dollars like, “Do you smoke?” Finally, the EHR allows providers to print visit summaries and patient education materials to help with patient compliance.

3. A patient portal allows patients the ability to go back and view medical records and communicate securely with providers. Two third of patients say they would switch providers for access to online medical records and the same number say they would be more loyal to their provider if there was a portal. This tool can play a key role in patient satisfaction.

4. Technology can also be used to implement recall programs to ensure that patients with chronic conditions get in for their follow-up visits and vaccinations.

5. Finally, there is even software that is specifically designed to help you track and manage quality assurance if you are so inclined. And if you practice is really struggling with patient satisfaction and outcomes, this may be worth the investment.

The important thing to remember is that using a good EHR, practice marketing solution or even a system designed to manage QA is great, but it is just one piece of the puzzle. You can’t automate customer service or bedside manner. Personal interaction plays a vital role in QA. However, as the cost of technology goes down and ease of use goes up, it can be very helpful in identifying problems and beginning to solve them.

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