The Role of Practice Automation in Healthcare Communication

Posted on February 16, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Naveen Sarabu, Vice President of Product Management, AdvancedMD.

Practice automation was born out of the demand for quicker, more efficient manual processes. One of these manual processes is getting back to basics by using plain, old-fashioned communication – whether among members of a healthcare team, or between a physician and patient. Through automation we seek to deliver the right data to the right people exactly when they need it for the optimal provision of care. Likewise, we also seek to cut down on the manual processes that bog us down and add complexity. Many ambulatory practices struggle to find a solution that meets the complex demands of treating patients. Many admit that communication remains one of their greatest struggles – and miscommunication is one of the biggest frustrations for patients.

Doctors’ offices and hospital counterparts in the U.S. have shouldered $1.7 billion in malpractice costs due to poor communication—that’s 30 percent of all malpractice cases.

Automating manual processes of a physician practice enables the distribution of vital patient information in a fast, efficient, and accurate way. By leveraging an integrated physician-patient workflow system, physicians gain benefits of both accuracy and time in the sharing of clinical and billing information. This defines the next generation of the EHR: managing patient data among systems with authentic, automated data transfer and overall ease of use.

Task-based challenges

In a sense, many elements of communication, or information transfer points, are categorized as “tasks” by physicians. Obviously, every doctor in every office has his or her own way of organizing to-do’s. Rigid or cookie-cutter solutions can be more trouble than they’re worth for the busy ambulatory practice. The sheer volume of tasks and relentlessness of practice-specific workflow elements remain a huge burden to physicians and staff members. Without a straightforward means to categorize and execute frequently performed tasks such as prescriptions, refills, charge slips, notes, and orders, action items can fall through the cracks and leave room for errors.

Practices can address this by selecting flexible and customizable solutions that spell out all the moving parts of a practice and put them at the physician’s fingertips, much like an automated workflow analyst would. Visual tools like dashboards are helpful in presenting all tasks in a single snapshot, allowing physicians to manage to-do’s quickly and with ease to execute and communicate what must come next. Patient cards organized by specialty and workflow give physicians a snapshot of what’s really most important in a given moment. An integrated EHR dashboard not only helps physicians negotiate high-priority tasks of significant volume, it orients them to the vital patient information required for sound decision-making.

Impact of physician mobility on communication

A key asset of running a fully-automated ambulatory practice is the feasibility of team members accessing the same systems in real time, from any location. This has multiple benefits, including improved communication accuracy and workflow efficiencies.

“Many different user types [in my practice] from the nurse, to the office manager, to the biller, are all working with the same data on the same platform with real-time access. The seamless continuity is what I like about it,” said Larry J. Winikur, MD, pain management physician in Danville, Va.

Physician mobility is achieved through cloud-based technology and allows providers and staff members to communicate seamlessly from several practice locations: a home office, a patient’s home, the hospital or while traveling. It helps physicians respond to patient and staff messages quickly and stay on top of pressing work issues no matter where they are, preventing a backlog of tasks once they return onsite.

Surgical Specialists of Jackson (Miss.), treats more than 500 active patients, including those in rural areas. According to office manager Kristen Humphrey, having mobile capabilities as a result of complete practice automation has improved the quality of care the practice provides to patients. “When we have a physician seeing patients an hour away in a rural county, he takes the iPad and is able to log into the patients’ medical record and get any information he needs,” leveraging a seamless connectivity to the practice from our office in Jackson. “It makes life really easy,” Humphrey says.

Remote access also offers the feasibility of treating patients with video-based telemedicine, during hospital rounding, or home or hospice care. EHR mobile access is, without a doubt, a top priority for busy practices as they build out the future of their business.

The building blocks of patient engagement

As practices compete with other practices and larger health systems to secure and retain patients, these patients have developed a consumer-like healthcare mentality. Most patients want as much information about their condition as possible, so they can take a proactive role in their care. Patients want to engage with their physicians, by communicating openly and regularly about options and treatment decisions.

A fully-automated ambulatory practice utilizes patient engagement tools to secure satisfaction, retention, and referrals. Consider the ease with which patients can make appointments – online self-scheduling is a critical piece of functionality. Automated check-in tools such as an iPad kiosk are especially favorable to patients who can complete intake and consent forms electronically, eliminating the possibility of transcription errors that occur when data is transferred from paper to digital. A robust patient portal enables physicians to communicate with patients privately and efficiently; to share educational materials or share lab results.

Appointment reminders can also serve as simple communication tools that enhance not only the patient experience, but also the practice bottom line.

Dr. Winikur utilized a patient reminder system to help decrease costly no-show appointments in his busy schedule. The solution helped engage patients and reduced no-shows at his practice from about 12 percent to approximately two percent of appointments, which positively impacts his revenue.

The mobility benefits previously mentioned also allow physicians to demonstrate superior attention to patient needs. “I can pull up patient information no matter where I am in the world with internet access,” Winikur says. When patients receive a quick and effective response to inquiry, they perceive their doctor is in the office (even if he’s not!), which helps increase patient satisfaction.

Other important automated tools include post-visit surveys that enable patients to provide honest, timely feedback about the care they’ve received. These surveys can also trigger patients to post positive experiences to Google and social media outlets. In the event of a negative experience, patients can first communicate privately with the practice to resolve any potential problem or miscommunication.

The bottom line

In today’s competitive healthcare climate, patients have many options for their care. Practices that transition to cloud-based technology platforms with fully automated and customizable workflow elements show greater respect to the needs and time of their patients, increase revenues, and place greater value on their own needs and time. They also prove to be on the cutting edge of technology by streamlining processes and enhancing communication to deliver safer and more accurate care.

About Naveen Sarabu
Naveen Sarabu is Vice President of Product Management at AdvancedMD. Naveen has more than 15 years of experience developing innovative healthcare software solutions for the ambulatory, acute and accountable care organization (ACO) markets, including for Allscripts, Hill-Rom, and NTT DATA. Naveen received an MBA from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and an undergraduate degree from National Institute of Technology, Warangal, India.