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.
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’sarticle 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.
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.
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:
Social media allows physicians the opportunity to tell their story – telling your story provides evidence of your experience and helps establish you as a leader in the space. Doing so also helps patient consumers have a reason to “buy in” to your system.
Social media allows you to find a community – by connecting with others, you are able to establish bonds, develop stronger collaboration with peers and bring people together for a unified cause.
Social media allows you to discover your passions outside the practice – social media helps you explore new ventures and avenues for creating relationships and bonds outside of the practice.
Social media leads to free marketing opportunities – social media helps you connect with others, Sevilla said. Those connections mean you are marketing yourself and your practice without having to spend anything but your time.
Social media allows physicians the opportunity to manage their online reputations – conversations are taking place about many of us, physicians or not. If we know what is being said, you can help protect ourselves and your practices.
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.