Guest post by Gaby Loria, analyst for mental health software, Software Advice.
There are certain factors clinicians are constantly working to improve at their practices, such as:
While these three P’s apply to every health care provider, regardless of practice size or specialty, they are especially important for independent physicians.
Solo and small practice doctors face more challenges than their counterparts in group-owned or hospital-affiliated organizations. They shoulder all the responsibility for:
- Ensuring care quality
- Retaining and attracting patients
- Paying the office’s overhead costs
- Keeping up with shifting regulatory requirements, which some say favor larger providers
For all of these reasons, it’s wise for small practices to invest in health IT tools that can give them an edge in a competitive and increasingly data-driven industry. The three tech trends we describe below can help improve performance, increase profitability and impact productivity without breaking tight budgets.
Improve Performance with Population Health Tools
The goal of managing population health is to achieve measurable improvements in the health outcomes of a group of people. In other words, taking steps to help groups of patients get healthier instead of solely focusing on one individual’s treatment plan at a time.
That may sound like a lot of work, but it’s not—if you have the right IT. Nowadays, there are a number of population health-enabled capabilities that are built into electronic health records (EHR) software systems commonly used by small practices. The breadth and depth of these capabilities vary depending on the system, but here are some examples:
- Leveraging an EHR’s reporting module to pinpoint the percentage of prediabetic patients at a practice, then specifically sending those patients information about diet and exercise changes to lower their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
- Setting targeted, automated appointment reminders to women who have not had a breast cancer screening in more than a year, making them more likely to come in for preventive care.
- Using software to generate risk assessments grouping patients by the severity of their chronic conditions. These assessments are based on patients’ digitized clinical records, so it’s easier to identify at-risk patients.
This technology makes it feasible for busy physicians to provide extra attention and care to patient populations that need it most, so they can prevent a worsening condition from developing. Such clinical interventions on a group scale can therefore make it possible to improve the overall health of a practice’s patient base.
Increase Profitability via Telemedicine
Telemedicine is the use of technology to support remote medical services. One of the most lucrative ways small practices can adopt telemedicine is by offering video consultations, which are virtual patient-physician interactions enabled by videoconferencing software. This allows doctors to see more patients per day without adding overhead costs (e.g., office space or staffing).
Interested physicians have two main options to capitalize on this trend:
- The first is to get an EHR with integrated videoconferencing capabilities. This is ideal for practices that want to offer telemedicine services to existing patients. Depending on their state laws, they may be able to get reimbursed for these virtual consultations.
- Alternatively, doctors can sign up to be a provider for a stand-alone platform (e.g., Teladoc, eVisit and American Well). This is better suited for practices looking to attract new patients. Some platforms charge doctors a monthly subscription fee, while others treat practitioners as independent contractors who get a percentage of whatever the patient pays per visit.
Regardless of what option physicians choose, the patient demand for telemedicine indicates it’s a smart way to retain or attract patients. In a survey of 381 U.S. patients, Software Advice found that three-quarters of patients are at least “moderately interested” in video-enabled doctor appointments instead of an in-person office visit for minor ailments, such as cold symptoms.
Impact Productivity through Direct Messaging
Direct messaging (also known simply as “Direct”) is an appealing tech trend to improve efficiency. It’s similar to email, because it’s a method of exchanging information over the internet. However, Direct messages are authenticated and encrypted in a standardized way to ensure protected health information (PHI) is sent and received by authorized parties only.
There are many productivity-boosting benefits of this health technology. Office staff can focus on higher priority tasks instead of spending time and money copying and sending health records to patients or specialists. Plus—when physicians have a follow-up question for a provider in their referral network, it’s faster to send a Direct message than coordinate schedules for a phone call.
The number of doctors using Direct is rising every year, which is a reflection of its value. Practices can get a Direct address through a health internet service provider (HISP), such as a software vendor or health information exchange (HIE) network.
While these three technologies are not commonly associated with small practices, we’ve highlighted them here in an effort to increase awareness about these emerging trends among such practices. Forward-thinking doctors seeking innovative ways to improve performance, profitability and productivity now have some specific ideas for how to go about it.