The evolution of healthcare technologies has made creating a truly integrated physician workflow a more viable option. With EHR vendors incorporating more and more supplementary technologies within their platform as well as software interfaces that can establish communication between a practice's vendor-specific systems, practices may realize improvements in both productivity and patient care.
Here is a look at how to create an integrated physician workflow:
A connected EHR
At the epicenter of a seamless physician workflow is the EHR. Each practice may have a number of additional technological systems — including practice management, telemedicine, and patient-facing systems — that need to communicate with the EHR, so selecting systems that are EHR-compatible right out of the box may be a wise choice.
"The most common way to integrate practice management systems with the EHR is to purchase both components from the same vendor," says Robert Schwartz, a triple-boarded emergency physician and principal with the informatics and technology practice of The Chartis Group, a national healthcare advisory services firm. "The large EHR vendors all offer practice management modules that are integrated into the clinical platform."
In instances where use of the same vendor across all systems is not feasible, interfaces may allow for data-sharing between programs. For Yolanda M. Lenzy, a board-certified dermatologist in Chicopee, Mass., who uses separate vendors for EHR, practice management, and telemedicine systems, interfaces are instrumental in creating a seamless experience. An interface connects her practice management system and EHR, streamlining billing in the process. "This allows us to chart the visit in the EHR and the codes automatically populate the superbill, which is [then] electronically submitted via the practice management system," says Lenzy.
As for patient-facing systems, such as portals and apps, many EHR platforms have those incorporated already, making the transfer of this data much simpler. But the use of a third-party portal or app may be tougher to fully integrate. "Patient-facing systems have held exceptional promise, but there are gaps — [like] patient safety, privacy, and identity management — that need to be addressed to realize full value," said Schwartz.
With the rising demand for telemedicine services, integrating this software with the EHR can boost efficiency. While many telemedicine systems can transfer the encounter documentation to the EHR, Schwartz says that true integration can be challenging. However, using an EHR that also includes a telemedicine component can minimize or completely eliminate those difficulties.
Creating a seamless practice environment can contribute greatly to a physician's productivity. "At a glance, the physician can see what their day looks like, how many patients are new and who is coming for follow-ups," says Schwartz. "Due to the integration, physicians can 'click through' the appointment into the demographics, history, results, and other pertinent information to better understand the [patient's] circumstances."
Improvements in patient compliance are possible benefits too. "Our EHR generates a patient education handout for each charted diagnosis, [which] helps tremendously with treatment compliance [and decreases] the amount of phone calls for clarification on instructions," says Lenzy.
Designing your workflow
Ideally, the goal of an integrated workflow is to provide efficient and effective patient care, and in turn, improve outcomes. But too much information flow between systems can do the exact opposite. "The best practice environment is when the provider has just the right amount of information available and just in time for use in a clinical scenario to manage patient care with the greatest efficiency and assurance of quality," says Schwartz.
Steph Weber is a freelance writer hailing from the Midwest. She writes about healthcare, finance, and small business, but finds her passion for the medical field growing in sync with the ever-changing healthcare laws.