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E-Patient Update:  Portal Confusion Undermines Patient Relationships

Posted on February 3, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

I’m not surprised that some medical practice staffers and doctors seem uncomfortable with their EMR system and portal. After all, they’re not IT experts, and smaller practices might not even have any full-time IT staffers to help. That being said, if they hope to engage patients with their healthcare, they need to do better.

I’m here to argue that training staff and doctors to help patients with portal use is not only feasible, it’s important to customer service, care quality and ultimately a practice’s ability to manage populations. If you accept the notion that patients must engage with their health, you can’t leave their data access to chance. Everyone who works with patients must know the basics of portal access, or at least be able to direct the patient immediately to someone that can help.

Start with the front line

If I have problems with accessing a practice portal, the first person I’m likely to discuss it with is someone on the front lines, either via the phone or during a visit. But front office staffers seldom seem to know Thing One about the portal, including how to access it or even where to address a complaint if I have one.  But I think practices should do at least the following:

* Train at least one front-desk staffer on how to access the portal, what to do when common problems occur and how to use the portal’s key functions. Training just one champion is probably enough for smaller practices.

* Create a notebook in which such staffers log patient complaints (and solutions if they have one). This will help the practice respond and address any technical issues that arise, as well making sure they don’t lose track of any progress they’ve made.

* Every front desk staffer (and every doctor) should have a paper handout at hand which educates patients on key portal functions, as well as the name of the champion described above.  Also, the practice should provide the same information on a page of their site, allowing a staffer to simply email the link to patients if the patient is calling in with questions.

* All doctors should know about the champion(s), and be ready to offer their name and number to patients who express concerns about EMR/portal access. They should also keep the handout in their office and share it when needed.

Honestly, I don’t regard any of these steps as a big deal. In fact, I see them as little more than common sense. But I haven’t encountered a single community practice that does any of them, or even pursued their own strategies for educating patients on their portal.

Maximizing your investment

For those reading this who think these steps – or your own version – are too much trouble, think again. There’s plenty of reason to follow through on patient portal support.  After all, if nothing else, you’ve probably spent a ton of money on your EMR and portal, so why not maximize the value it offers?

Also, you don’t want to frustrate patients needlessly when a little bit of preparation and education could make such a difference. Maybe this wasn’t the case even a few years ago, but today, I’d submit, helping patients access their data is nothing more than good customer service. Given the competition every provider faces, why would you ignore a clear opportunity to foster patient loyalty?

Bear in mind that a little information goes a long way with patients like me. You don’t have to write a book to satify me – you just have to help me succeed. Just tell me what to do and I’ll be happy. So don’t miss a chance to win me over!

Physicians Still Struggle To Find EHR Value

Posted on July 18, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

A new study by Physicians Practice magazine suggests that medical groups still aren’t getting what they want out of their EHRs, with nearly one-fifth reporting that they’re still struggling with an EHR-related drop in productivity and others still trying to optimize their system.

Physicians Practice surveyed 1,568 physicians, advanced practice providers across the U.S. as part of its 2016 Technology Survey. Nearly a third of respondents (31.9%) were in solo practice, and 34% in 2 to 5 physician practices, with percentages largely dropping as practice sizes grew larger.

Specialties represented included pediatrics (17.5%), family medicine (16.2%), OB/GYN (15.2%), psychiatry (12%), internal medicine (10.6%), surgery (2.9%), general practice (2.7%) and “other” at 22.9% (led by ophthalmology). As to business models, 63.3% of practices were independently-owned, 27.9% were part of an integrated delivery network and the remaining 8.8% were “other,” led by federally-qualified health centers.

Here’s some interesting data points from the survey, with my take:

  • Almost 40% of EHR users are struggling to get value out of their system: When asked what their most pressing technology problem was, 20.3% said it was optimizing use of their EHR, 18.9% a drop in productivity due to their EHR, and 12.9% a lack of interoperability between EHRs. Both EHR implementation and costs to implement and use technologies came in at 8%.
  • EHR rollouts are maturing, but many practices are lagging: About 59% of respondents had a fully-implemented EHR in place, with 14.5% using a system provided by a hospital or corporate parent. But 16.8% didn’t have an EHR, and 9.5% had selected an EHR (or a corporate parent had done so for them) but hadn’t fully implemented or optimized yet.
  • Many practices that skip EHRs don’t think they’re worth the trouble and expense: Almost 41% of respondents who don’t have a system in place said that they don’t believe it would improve patient care, 24.4% said that such systems are too expensive. A small but meaningful subset of the non-users (6.6%) said they’d “heard too many horror stories.”
  • Medical group EHR implementations are fairly slow, with more than one-quarter limping on for over a year: More than a third (37.2%) of practices reported that full implementation and training took up to six months, 21.2% said it took more than six months and less than a year, 12.8% said more than a year but less than 18 months, and 15.7% at more than 18 months.
  • Most practices haven’t seen a penny of return on their EHR investment: While just about one-quarter of respondents (25.7%) reported that they’d gotten ROI from their system, almost three-quarters (74.3%) said they had not.
  • Loyalty to EHR vendors is lukewarm at best: When asked how they felt about their EHR vendor, 39.7% said they were satisfied and would recommend them, but felt other vendors would be just as good. Just over 16% said they were very satisfied. Meanwhile, more than 17% were either dissatisfied and regretted their purchase or ready to switch to another system.
  • The big EHR switchout isn’t just for hospitals: While 62.1% of respondents said that the EHR they had in place was their first, 27.1% were on their second system, and 10.8% their third or more.

If you want to learn more, I recommend the report highly (click here to get it). But it doesn’t take a weatherman to see which way these winds are blowing. Clearly, many practices still need a hand in getting something worthwhile from their EHR, and I hope they get it.