Being an independent physician in a consolidated world is an intimidating place to be. With increasing pressure to cut costs and improve quality coming from both government and commercial payors, making investments in technology is a logical — albeit overwhelming — necessity. Here are some key tools to guide you along your way:
- A progressive Electronic Health Record is critical to your success (EHRs need love, too)
I know, I know — how could I start with Electronic Health Records? Haven’t the last ten years been spent attending tedious demo sessions, configuring content, training best practice workflows, converting and shredding paper charts, and counting clicks, ad infinitum? The fact is — like it or not — Electronic Health Records are here to stay. More to the point — and here’s another fun buzzword for your next networking event — as the healthcare IT industry takes a hard stance and beats upwind towards true interoperability, your EHR will necessarily become the central hub of the office if it isn’t already. This won’t be your grandparents’ EHR anymore, outfitted simply with scheduling modules and physical exam templates; no, this EHR will be something you can demand more of. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t expect the basic EHR-functionality to be best in class — you should — but that the EHR and it’s product managers should go above and beyond for you. For example, what’s their third-party vendor philosophy? Do they recognize they can’t solve all of your problems and open up their tool for other companies to bolt on their products and services? Do they make data easily accessible, such that it can be exported and analyzed at the click of a button? When it comes to performance, does your vendor make radical transparency the norm, or is it difficult to understand how your practice stacks up against the competition?
Key point: Is your EHR vendor forward-thinking, or are they content to maintain the status quo, in a rapidly-changing environment?
- What to expect when you’re expecting (to meet your new physician, and more)
In today’s day and age, your website is the front door of your practice in a crowded marketplace — a marketplace in which potential patients make snap judgments based (for better or worse) on how your website makes them feel. So, spend some time ensuring your website delivers the experience you deliver when your patients are in the office. Strike a balance: make it warm, friendly, and easy to use, while underscoring your professional acumen and deep, analytical approach to their problems. Flash isn’t necessary, but instilling confidence in your practice is, and first-impressions are no longer always in-person. Your website should also offer relevant clinical resources with which the patient can make intelligent decisions for themselves — decisions like where to go in an emergency (your office, urgent care or an emergency department), or which imaging facility best suits their needs for a particular study. Remember, these decisions often affect your performance in risk and performance-based contracts at the end of the fiscal year. Another way to think about this: your patients will make certain decisions with or without your input, so do all that you can to make yourself and your staff their trusted advisor, in-or-out of the office.
Key point: You need an inviting, informative website.
- Open up your scheduling books to see your patients when they need to be seen
What do some of the most successful restaurants and medical practices have in common (other than excellent bedside manner)? Easily accessible and intuitive online scheduling tools for consumers (patients) to use anytime, anywhere. In a risk-based environment, a core component of the patient engagement toolkit is providing your patients access to the right provider at the right time. Whether the patient is scheduling a sick visit, is looking to avoid a trip to the emergency department, or simply wants to book their next physical, it is imperative they have the option to do this online (the parameters of which are tightly controlled by your office, of course). Moreover, patients — who are used to booking everything from restaurant reservations to plumbing appointments online — have simply come to expect this level of availability and technological access from their physicians. Couple this with a robust patient portal, through which patients can view their medical histories, lab results, care summaries, etc., and the outcome is an engaged patient, treatment-plan adherent patient.
Key point: Online scheduling is a must.
- A rich patient portal experience can yield healthy patient returns
What’s the point of aggregating massive amounts of data to understand your patient population if those same patients can’t access their own data when they want to? A patient portal accomplishes that — health records on demand — and more, impacting all four slices of the elusive Quadruple Aim pie. Indeed, what better way to engage a patient in their healthcare journey and enhance their experience (and satisfaction) at your practice, than supplying them with their own data to consume? After all, an informed patient — especially in a risk-based world — is a healthy patient. What’s more, the patient portal removes potential communication barriers a patient may otherwise create for themselves, by enabling them to contact their physician with minimal hassle via secure messaging. Both patients and providers find this arrangement agreeable, as they’re able to message each other when it’s convenient to them. Lastly, making their clinical data portable — in other words, easily transferrable to a secondary or tertiary care setting — paints a more vivid picture of health for their specialist, who in turn can make evidence-based decisions, rooted in delivering better outcomes at a lower cost.
Key point: Make your data work for you and your patients with a rich portal.
- At-home monitoring and screening tools keep you connected
One easy (and fun!) way to achieve patient engagement and streamline in-office workflows is to adopt, alongside your patients, at-home monitoring, and screening tools. These applications — available for both desktop and mobile devices — simplify data-gathering processes, and allow your staff to focus on higher-value activities when the patient is in the office. Ranging from wirelessly-enabled scales, to blood-pressure reading machines, these applications can be seamlessly integrated into your EHR, giving you real-time insight into your patient’s progress against a wide-breadth of metrics. Whether it’s monitoring the health of your diabetic population, or completing health questionnaires before the patient arrives for their visit, these tools are sure to deliver value to your practice, while boosting your panel’s engagement levels.
- Slicing and dicing: not just for scalpel jocks anymore
Let’s face it: you’ve always fancied yourself data-scientist, first, and a doctor, second, right? Okay, maybe that’s a stretch — however, the reality is, to be successful in a risk-based environment, you’ll need to invest in a data modeling and reporting application to cut away the noise of practicing medicine on a daily basis, and truly understand the health of your population. Ask yourself, can I quickly and easily consult my data to answer these questions with my current suite of products?
-How many diabetic patients do I have?
-How many CHF patients do I have?
-How many of my CHF patients have been admitted to an emergency department in the last month?
-How many of my patients are due for their annual physical in the next three months?
If the answer is no, you should strongly consider an analytics tool that allows you to cut your data any which way you want, in order to understand where your office resources should be deployed for maximum impact on a daily basis. Whether your current EHR vendor offers a proprietary data tool or service or you need to engage a third-party vendor, this should be a top acquisition priority for your office. Don’t worry, none of these tools will require a second career as a data scientist (or a surgeon) to use them.
Key point: Take advantage of easy-to-use data software to make sure you’re doing your population health due diligence.
- Provider, provider, provider! (or, location, location, location!) — why where your patient goes once they leave your office matters, and how to steer them in the right direction.
Maybe one of the most overlooked and underappreciated drivers of cost in the healthcare ecosystem is a single referral — few consider the effect it has on their cut of shared savings, which is why investing time and money in a referral tool is perhaps one of the most impactful strategies you can adopt as an independent physician. Your referral tool should activate conversations between you and your patients about where and why you’re referring them to a particular provider or facility. Some tools will even help you schedule your patients before they leave your office, guaranteeing they stick to the plan you’ve set as a team. More often than not, where a patient goes to consume ancillary healthcare services — whether that service is a consult or an x-ray — is driven by personal relationships their primary care physician has with specialists, or the convenience factor certain facilities offer, which may be close to their home or work. Little attention is paid to the fact that these same services may be rendered in alternative settings at significant discounts, all while delivering the same standard of care. Many physicians don’t know this, and patients definitely don’t.
For example, while there may be a hospital-affiliated imaging facility mere steps from your office, your patient might want to know there is a freestanding facility one mile down the road, offering the same imaging service for half the cost. Not only that, but the studies are read by the same radiologists as at the hospital facility.Having this insight into cost and quality will empower you and your patients to make the right decisions about where and when to consume healthcare services while maintaining high clinical standards.
Key point: Referrals matter! Adopt the use of a reliable tool to make your referral processes easier.
How are you investing in technology in your practice? Have you experienced any benefits? Let us know in the comments below!