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The Future of Small Medical Practices

Posted on December 27, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

One of the questions I get most often relates to the future of small practices in healthcare. I’ve heard a lot of people make really great arguments for why small medical practices have an extremely challenging future in healthcare. We’ve all heard stories of large healthcare organizations eating up small medical practices left and right.

For the longest time, I’ve argued that this is all just part of a cycle of doctors selling to hospitals and then doctors hating life as an employed doctor and so they return to running their own practice. This cycle seems to be playing out and most doctors still hate being employees. However, there are a lot of other forces at play that makes it harder for doctors to go out and start their own independent medical practice again.

As I look at the biggest healthcare trends, none of them point to a brighter future for the small, independent medical practice. In fact, most of them make it even harder for small medical practices to survive.

For example, the shift to value based reimbursement is something that should be a great thing for small medical practices that have been known to provide the highest quality, personalized care. While this is true, must of value based reimbursement is as much about understanding and applying the data to a population in order to improve the overall health. How many small practices are going to be capable to do this type of data analysis?

If you extrapolate this further, it’s hard to imagine a future healthcare system that’s not built on the back of data. If that’s the case, he who holds the data holds the power. It’s worth asking if even the hospitals and health systems will be large enough to have the data they need on their patients. Or will even the largest hospitals and health systems need to work with massive companies like Google and Amazon who are currently collecting data at rates that no hospital could even consider?

This is a scary and exciting future that is a topic for another post. However, from a small practice perspective, this could be a good thing. If large corporations like Google and Amazon have the data needed to improve healthcare, then it’s possible that those corporations will enable small practices to survive. It could level the playing field for small practices that are trying to compete with large health systems.

What’s certain is that every healthcare organization is going to have to move beyond just the EHR. Sure, the EHR will be a requirement for every medical practice, but I believe it will only be the start. For small and large medical practices to survive, they’re going to have to start exploring what other technology they can implement to provide a better patient experience. The good thing is that small practices can be nimble and implement new technology quickly and without as much bureaucracy. The hard part is that they have to do so with a smaller budget.

What do you think about the future of small medical practices? Will they survive? Should we be making efforts to make sure they survive?

RCM Tips & Tricks: Shortening Length of Claims In Accounts Receivable

Posted on December 21, 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.

There’s little question that health insurers do little to help your medical practice collect the reimbursement you’re due.  Not only that, ongoing changes in federal laws make improving your collections levels even more difficult.

As a result, physician practices need all the help they can get in shortening the days claims spend in Accounts Receivable, including the seemingly obvious challenge of collecting payment in full from payers, which don’t even honor rates set forth in reimbursement contracts in some cases.

Given these challenges, medical groups need all the help they can get in improving A/R. Here are some tips from medicalbillersandcoders.com:

  • Find claims which might be rejected ahead of time before submitting them to payers. Claims not paid when first submitted are far less likely to ever get paid.
  • Identify such claims using software that can track and respond to rules and regulation changes by payers. This software should also take into account the rate of denials by a given payer for all doctors.
  • Use software (such as practice management tools) to track all payments, and make sure that your practice is paid based on the terms the payer has agreed upon. Insurers pay less than promised for roughly 10% of claims.
  • Create a detailed system to address the aging of receivables, then track those claims by payer, as various payers might have different payment schedules and different procedures for addressing late reimbursement.
  • Make sure you follow up on unpaid claims as quickly as possible, as the sooner your practice follows up with health insurers the more likely you’ll get paid, and the less likely the claim will end up lost or ignored.
  • Using electronic tools, see to it that your A/R workflow is efficient, or your group may endure errors in documentation which slow down reimbursement. Practice management software can be helpful in addressing this problem.

Practices with a large budget may be able to invest in sophisticated, expensive tools which can perform in-depth claims analysis. This can help such practices improve time in A/R for claims.

However, if your practice is smaller and its budget can’t absorb high-end analytical tools, you can still improve your collections by being thorough and having a good workflow in place.

Also, it’s smart to make sure everyone on your staff is aware of your A/R goals. Even if they don’t have direct contact with collections or A/R, they can be the eyes and ears which help the process along.

Study Says Physicians Have Major Cybersecurity Problems

Posted on December 18, 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.

New research sponsored by the AMA and consulting firm Accenture has concluded that cyberattacks on medical practices are common – in fact, far more common than one might think.

Not only do these numbers suggest patient data is far more vulnerable than expected, it suggests that clinicians are often poorly educated about security and the implications of handling it badly. It’s fair to say that unless this trend is turned around, it could undermine industry efforts to build trusting relationships with patients and encourage them to engage in two-way data exchange.

The study found that most physicians (85%) think that sharing electronic protected health information is a good idea and that two-thirds believe that giving patients more access to their health data would improve care. One-third of respondents said that they share ePHI if they trust the vendors involved.

Thirty-seven percent get training content on security from their health IT vendor, and 50% said they trust these training providers are sure the content is adequate. However, this may be a mistake. While 87% of respondents said that their practice is HIPAA-compliant, the study also found that two-thirds of doctors still have basic questions about HIPAA. It’s clear, in other words, that trusted relationships aren’t doing the job here.

In fact, an eye-popping 83% of medical practices have experienced some form of cyberattack such as malware, phishing or viruses. Not surprisingly, 55% of physicians surveyed are very worried about future cyberattacks. Unfortunately, worrying is what many people do instead of taking action, and that may be what’s going on here.

What makes these lax attitudes all the more problematic is that when attacks occur, the effect can be very substantial. For example, 74% of respondents said that a cyberattack was likely to interrupt their clinical practice, and 29% of doctors working in medium-sized practices said that it could take up to a full day to recover from an attack, a crippling length of time for any small business.

So what are practices willing to do to avoid these problems? Among these respondents, 60% said they would pay someone to create a security framework to protect ePHI. Also, 49% of practices surveyed have in-house security staffers on board. However, it should be noted that three times more medium and large practices have such an officer in place compared to smaller medical groups, probably because security expertise is very pricey.

However, probably the most valuable thing they can do is the least expensive of the list. Every practice should require that physicians stay current at least on HIPAA and cybersecurity basics. If medical groups do this, at least they’ve established a baseline from which they can work on other security issues.

4 Reasons Patient Texting Is Taking Center Stage

Posted on December 14, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

Communication is one of the most time consuming tasks for medical practices. Hundreds of patients need to be contacted on a regular basis. Keeping up can be a challenge. Failing to do so can be damaging to the practice. Modern patients have adopted a consumer-based mentality and are quick to switch practices when it does not live up to their expectations. Communication methods that used to be regarded as personal and engaging are now felt to be invasive and outdated. The stats back it up:

  • Nineteen percent of people never check their voicemail.
  • Ninety percent of cell phone users ignore incoming phone calls.
  • Seventy eight percent of emails are never opened.

What do patients want instead? Texting.

The “Why” Behind the Success of Texting

Today’s patients are already savvy texters in their everyday lives and expect to be able to do the same with their medical practices. The Patient-Provider Relationship Study found that 79 percent of patients would like to receive text messages from their doctor and 73 percent want to send a text to their doctor’s office. In response, more and more offices are turning to texting. Why is texting so critical to practice success?

  1. It’s faster for everyone. The average text message takes just four seconds to send. Compare that to a phone call, in which people talk for at least two minutes. Those two minutes don’t include the time spent dialing, waiting for an answer, leaving a message, or following up. Experts estimate that a phone call to schedule an appointment—from start to finish—takes 8.1 minutes. Those minutes add up. For example, if your practice receives 50 incoming phone calls each day, even at just two minutes per call, that’s almost two hours spent on the phone. Add to that outbound calls and the hours build even more. Text messages, on the other hand, take only seconds to type and send.
  2. It improves health outcomes.research study by JAMA Internal Medicine reviewed data from 16 randomized clinical trials and found that texting can double the odds of chronic illness patients sticking to medication adherence. When using text messages as ways to remind patients of appointments and medication needs, they resoundingly respond.
  3. It keeps the schedule full. A text message system can be completely automated—meaning it can send notifications as often as desired. This ensures lower rates of patient no-shows. In addition, when a last-minute cancellation happens, texting is a great way to fill those spots. Patients who want to be seen soon can be put on a waiting list. When someone cancels their appointment, an automated text can be sent to each patient on the waiting list letting them know an appointment has become available. This text takes far less time than calling each person on the waiting list and hoping to reach an available patient in time to rebook the appointment. Your schedule stays full and your revenue increases.
  4. It increases in-office engagement. Freeing up so much time allows front office staff to spend more time where they are needed most—engaging in compassionate care with the patient right in front of them. Extensive research has found that patient-based, compassionate care leads to lower stress levels and burnout for healthcare providers and better health outcomes and satisfaction for patients. This type of care is only made possible, however, when staff members are not talking on the phone all day. Texting frees up this time.

Texting is the norm in almost every aspect of our society, and it is quickly becoming the expectation in the healthcare industry as well. It offers patients an easy way to communicate with your practice and still provide great service to the patients you are serving in your office. Your patients are happy with the way your practice communicates, you reduce the amount of time spent on phone calls, and—most importantly—your practice continues to grow.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff. Learn more about the Patient-Provider relationship survey here.

Coping With The Loss Of Your Ambulatory EMR

Posted on December 13, 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.

Despite the struggles involved, most practices seem to have settled in with an EMR they can at least tolerate. Their workflows are, well, working, the practice management features seem to connect with the clinical ones and most clinicians are complaining about using it.

Yes, your practice may have had to go through a few systems before you found one everyone liked, wasn’t too expensive and had decent technical support to offer.  By this time, though you may have been a little scarred by the experience, hopefully practice leaders have gotten comfortable with the central role the EMR plays in the practice.

Then, you decide it makes sense to sell your practice to the local health system. It could be because it’s an irresistible deal financially, or you feel you can’t survive without their help and partnership, or any number of additional reasons. Everything looks good, but then you take a hit: your new “partner” wants to dump the EMR you worked so hard to find and customize. They want you to work on the same enterprise system they do.

Now, from a hospital’s perspective that may make sense. Here’s how one consulting firm lays things out:

“[When acquiring a medical practice] one critical issue is how to transition the workflow of these physicians and their staff from the practice-owned ambulatory EMR to the centralized hospital-owned EMR to ensure the efficient and safe delivery of care to patients,” it tells its hospital customers. In other words, it’s a question of when and how, not IF the hospital should require acquired practices to make the switch.

The thing is, while the hospital may have a comparatively large staff dedicated to integrating and managing the data pulled in from your ambulatory EMR, the reverse is probably not true. Unless your practice is particularly large, it probably only includes 5 to 10 doctors. In such practices, having even a single data expert on staff would be unusual. (Not to mention that hiring one part-time or as a consultant wouldn’t be cheap.)

In other words, for a while you may be fishing for your patients’ data as you transition to the larger team to which you will belong. Also, until the hospital health system completes integrating the data from your practice into its enterprise system, you may or may not have access to quality metrics important to running a practice these days, and the effect on your billing practices could turn out to be a disaster too.

At this point, I’m supposed to stop and tell you that all this can be handled efficiently if you take one step or the other. Unfortunately, I’m not sure there is any great happy ending to suggest at this point. If you have to give up your own ambulatory EMR, it’s probably going to be painful.

However, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. There probably are some strategies, perhaps unique to your practice, that can blunt the impact of some of these problems if you’re prepared. That said, the move to a new EMR is always painful, even if the change ends up being a good one.

Alexa and Medical Practices

Posted on December 12, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Today I was asked to do a webinar for Solutionreach on the topic of “What You Need to Know for 2018: From Government Regulations to New Technology.” It was a fun webinar to put together and I believe you can still register and get access to the recorded version of the webinar.

In my presentation, I covered a lot of ground including talking about the consumerization of healthcare and how our retail experiences are so different than our healthcare experiences. In 2018, I see the wave of technology that’s available to make a medical practice’s patient experience be much closer to a patient’s retail experience. That’s exciting.

One of the areas I mentioned is the move to voice-powered devices like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Siri, etc. Someone asked a question about how quickly these devices were going to hit healthcare. No doubt they have experienced how amazing these devices are in their home (I have 2 at home and love them), but the idea of connecting with your doctor through Alexa is a little mind bending. It goes against our normal rational thoughts. However, it will absolutely happen.

Just to be clear, Alexa is not currently HIPAA compliant. However, many things we want to do in healthcare don’t require PHI. Plus, if the patient agrees to do it, then HIPAA is not an issue. It’s not very hard to see how patients could ask “Alexa, when is my next appointment?” or even “Alexa, please schedule an appointment with my OB/GYN on Friday in the afternoon.” The technology is almost there to do this. Especially if you tie this in to one of the patient self scheduling tools. Pretty amazing to consider, no?

I also highlighted how the latest Amazon Echo Show includes a video screen as well. It’s easy to see how one could say, “Alexa, please connect me with my doctor.” Then, Alexa could connect you with a doctor for a telemedicine visit all through the Alexa Show. Ideally, this would be your primary care doctor, but most patients will be ok with a doctor of any sort in order to make the experience easy and convenient for them.

Of course, we see a lot of other healthcare applications of Alexa. It can help with loneliness. It can help with Alzheimers patients who are asking the same question over and over again and driving their caregiver crazy. It could remind you of medications and track how well you’re doing at taking them or other care plan tracking. And we’re just getting started.

It’s an exciting time to be in healthcare and it won’t be long until voice activated devices like Alexa are connecting us to our healthcare and improving our health.

What do you think of Alexa and other related solutions? Where do you see it having success in healthcare? How long will it take for us to get there?

Note: Solutionreach is a Healthcare Scene sponsor.

MIPS Twitter Roundup – MACRA Monday

Posted on December 11, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

As we near the end of 2017, I found a number of tweets from CMS and other people that I thought would be useful to those that are interested in MACRA and MIPS.

First up is this tweet from CMS that it’s not too late to still participate in MIPS and collect some performance data before the end of 2017. This is them promoting the Test Option which would allow you to avoid the 4% penalty:

Next up is a fact sheet from CMS which outlines the different between 2017 and 2018 when it comes to MACRA/MIPS. I particularly like page 6 of the document. As you go through it, you’ll realize why 2018 is going to be much harder than 2017.

Next up is a stat from MGMA. I’d be interested in learning about the 14% of practices that think that their value-based reimbursement is going to decrease. Are these people going to direct primary care? I don’t see it going down for almost anyone. What do you think?

Finally, Matt Fisher asks a question about whether MIPS should be voluntary. I don’t think they can make it any more voluntary given the current legislation and do any of us think that congress is going to take up this topic? I don’t. So, it’s kind of a moot point. However, there is a lot of doctor angst about MIPS/MACRA. I just don’t see enough of it to really move the needle on things. I think we’re stuck with MACRA/MIPS for the forseeable future.

Telehealth and Its Contribution to Healthcare

Posted on December 6, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Juan Pablo Segura, Co-founder & President of Babyscripts.

In 2016, Americans spent roughly 18% of GDP on healthcare. Abetted by an aging population and continuously rising costs of care, CMS projects that this number will only grow over the next decade, increasing at an average of 5.6% annually. A crisis seems unavoidable: yet a huge fraction of this sum is lost to inefficient spending, which, when compared to other factors like an aging population, socio-economic challenges, or expensive new treatments, seems completely within the industry’s control to control and eliminate. A new OECD report calculates that approximately 20 cents out of every dollar spent on healthcare are considered unnecessary.

Could a simple reallocation of time and resources be enough to check the seemingly inevitable? The potential cost-savings of such a reallocation has policymakers and health professionals poised to revolutionize healthcare, as an industry that has long been resistant to innovation rejects antiquated models of care for more efficient methods that prioritize patient and provider alike.

A simple resolution that is already allowing more patients to receive necessary and important primary care is the extension of care teams through mid-level providers that cost a fraction of the salary of a full time physician. Physician’s Assistants and nurse practitioners are being granted more autonomy, as State governments remove restrictions while enacting legislation that grants PAs and other personnel full prescriptive authority. Allowing these lower cost health professionals to perform routine, primary care instead of more expensive, specialized physicians, immediately eliminates inefficiencies in the system and increases access to care to patients in the midst of a physician shortage.

These changes in personnel are necessary, but not enough to respond to the changing face of care. The answer to more affordable care is in leveraging existing technologies.

The rapid adoption of synchronous, video visits between patients and providers across the country is an exciting example of how technology can eliminate waste and help the system reallocate its resources. Recognizing its potential to decrease the administrative demands on providers and facilitate access to patients in remote areas, the industry has placed great emphasis on this aspect of telemedicine, even to the extent of providing incentives to providers for facilitating care through video.

But far from being the solution, video visits just scratch the surface of technology’s potential contributions to affordable healthcare, and in fact are the least beneficial of the efficiencies that technology is poised to provide. Some studies have indicated that when video visits are included in a medical plan, patients tend to treat them as an add-on, rather than a replacement for traditional in-person care. Furthermore, without integrated systems, video visits function much as if a patient were receiving all medical care at the ER, producing a fractured and incomplete medical record.

The dialogue must be centered on those innovations that revolutionize the way we approach healthcare, not simply attempt to translate an outdated system into a world that has evolved past it.

The conversation needs to focus on the most relevant, effective and impactful technology tools to affect the ultimate cost of care. Already, forward thinking providers like Greenville Health are creating end to end “virtual strategies” that rely heavily on remote monitoring apps and asynchronous visits that have the capacity to identify the problems before they begin. Beyond the immediate benefit of proper allocation of time and resources, the ultimate goal of technological innovation in healthcare has always been the opportunity to identify potential problems and create the necessary infrastructure to allow our healthcare system to focus on preventative health.

Of the healthcare apps currently in the digital marketplace, some have been shown not only to decrease costs but to be as successful as medication in preventing complications, anticipating a future of decreased prescription costs. Remote monitoring programs that use IOT devices like blood pressure cuffs and weight scales have reduced the cost of prenatal care by 40% while detecting problems like preeclampsia and other high-risk illnesses. Yet there is very little coding or direct payer incentive for deploying preventative technologies like that provided for video visits.

And why not? Video visits are a move in the right direction, but the decrease to cost of care does not have to come at the expense of the client/physician relationship or integrated care. Instead, effective technology should cut costs while assuring patient and provider of the continuity and efficacy of care.

The conversation amongst policymakers needs to expand to include these more revolutionary aspects of digital health, rewarding those who are effectively reducing costs without compromising care. Digital health will not be confined to a narrow vision, but it is up to the government and the industry to expedite the future of healthcare.

About Juan Pablo Segura
Juan Pablo Segura is Co-founder & President of Babyscripts, a Washington, DC-based technology company that builds mobile and digital tools to empower women to have better pregnancies. Juan Pablo was named a Wireless Life Saver by CTIA and a health care Transformer by the Startup Health Academy in New York City.

EHR-Based Order Prioritization Could Streamline MRI Use

Posted on December 5, 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.

New research suggests that the overuse of STAT requests for MRIs could be trimmed down considerably if criteria for using such requests were integrated into healthcare organizations’ EHRs. The study also suggests, indirectly at least, that adding timing requests for various procedures into EHRs could help with overall workflow in many facilities.

Researchers from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, who presented their findings at the RSNA 2017 show last month, found that the volume of STAT brain MRIs had increased to the point where 60% of all MRI orders were ordered as STAT between 2012 and 2015.

The increasing use of the STAT designation has ended up creating a bottleneck, researchers concluded. They found that the volume of STAT requests for brain MRIs was so high that it actually led to delays in turnarounds for those studies. In fact, they found that the mean turnaround time for STAT brain MRIs was roughly 50% longer than routine brain MRIs (23.43 hours versus 15.46 hours).

Among the sources of this problem, it seems, is that few clinicians were aware of the hospital’s policy for STAT MRIs. In an online survey of 97 providers, only 4% were aware that a STAT imaging study should be initiated within 30 minutes of the order. Instead, many expected that a stat MRI would be completed within the same day for inpatients within 2 to 3 days for outpatients, according to a story appearing in Radiology Business.

To address this problem, the researchers are proposing that hospitals add order prioritization criteria to their EHR.  These criteria will include definitions and clinical examples to help clinicians sort out which category to use when ordering a brain MRI.

This approach would also help clinicians better understand how the institution defines normal versus STAT priority for imaging orders. The researchers are recommending that hospitals include EMR documentation defining both STAT and routine categories, as well as a statement of when they can expect imaging to be completed under each category.

Adding categories and definitions of when imaging orders should be categorized as STAT would actually appeal to clinicians, the study suggests. Researchers found that more than 70% of clinicians said they would find clinical examples of an order prioritization scheme useful. What’s more, 84% of clinicians responding to the study said they would order routine MRIs if they were assured the studies would be completed within 24 hours.

The authors admitted that integrating order prioritization schemes for imaging could be time-consuming for IT departments, which suggests that finding other ways to set these priorities over the short term is probably a good idea. But given how supportive clinicians seem to be the idea of improving order turnaround, it seems likely that the EHR integration work should get done before too long.

Are Improved EMR UI Designs On The Way? I Doubt It

Posted on December 4, 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.

More or less since EMRs were first deployed, providers have been complaining about the poor quality of the interface they’ve had to use.  Quite reasonably, clinicians complained that these interfaces weren’t intuitive, required countless extra keystrokes and forced their work processes into new and uncomfortable patterns.

Despite many years of back and forth, EMR vendors don’t seem to be doing much better. But if a new story appearing in Modern Healthcare is to be believed, vendors are at least trying harder. (Better late than never, I suppose.)

For example, the story notes, designers at Allscripts create a storyboard to test new user interface designs on providers before they actually develop the coded UI. They use the storyboard to figure out where features should sit on a given screen.

According to the magazine, designers at several other EMR vendors have begun going through similar processes. “They are consulting with and observing users inside and outside of their natural work environments to build EHRs for efficient – and pleasant – workflows, layouts and functionality,” the magazine reports.

Reporter Rachel Arndt says that major EHR vendors now rely on a mix of approaches such as formal user testing and collection of informal feedback from end-users to meet their products more usable for clinicians. In some cases, this has evolved into official UI design partnerships between EHR vendors and customers, the story says.

Okay. I get it. We’re supposed to believe that vendors have finally gotten their heads together and are working to make end-users of their products happier and more productive. But given the negative feedback I still get from clinicians, I find myself feeling rather skeptical that the EHR vendors have suddenly gotten religion where UI design is concerned.

For what it’s worth, I have no doubt that Ms. Arndt reported accurately what the vendors were telling her. If any of us would ask vendors they are partnering with customers – especially end-users – to make their products more intuitive to work with, they will swear on a stack of user manuals that they’re improving usability every day.

Until I hear otherwise, though, I’m not going to assume that conditions have changed much out there where EHR usability is concerned. Today, all the feedback I get suggests that EHRs are still being designed to meet the needs of senior management within provider organizations, not the doctors and nurses that have to use them every day.

Of course, I hope I’m wrong, and that the story is accurate in ways that offer some hope to clinicians. But for now, color me very doubtful that EMR vendors are making any earth-shattering UI improvements at present.