While the use of technology has made great strides in recent years in the medical office setting, it sometimes seems like we've traded one set of "busy work" for another. For example, even though the use of EHRs has dramatically reduced the need for paper charts, instead of filing paper we now seem to be spending just as much time on scanning paper into the electronic charts.
The true promise of technology is to reduce work flow and to reap smoother operations in general. But how can your office go about accomplishing that? Here are six easy to implement ideas:
For some offices scanning seems to be a bigger chore than filing ever was. It seemed that anybody could file paper in a chart, but scanning requires a little bit more sophistication. So how can you tame the scanning monster?
First, set up a work flow that allows for prioritization. Recent test results and consult letters need to be handled quickly and efficiently, while older records and copies of forms can be de-prioritized somewhat.
Next, if your practice is large and your scanning needs extensive, consider creating a clerical position with primary duties centered on this, much the same way as you might have had a filing clerk before your EHR transition. Why? A medical-records management position allows you to train an employee or two on exactly how to manage these documents so that work can flow more easily. Typically this person also manages faxing responsibilities. In this way, you can rely on certain staff members to be responsible for patients' records rather than having all of your staff haphazardly deal with the paper flow.
2. Electronic faxing
If you don't already have one, consider setting up an e-fax to help with the flow of paper documentation coming into the fax machine. Tagging and moving electronic files is faster and more efficient than reviewing paper from the fax, scanning it in to the EHR, and attaching it to various patient records. It also allows you to send records and notes electronically, further reducing time spent printing, writing a cover sheet, dialing the fax number, and then shredding the faxed papers.
Talk to your local hospitals and referral sources and see what EHRs they are using. If they are using the same system as you, there may be opportunity for direct interconnectivity between the systems. In addition, many hospitals have invested in systems whereby data is pushed to the patients' known providers seamlessly (e.g. discharge summaries) or can be pulled from a portal daily. Some even directly flow into practice EHRs automatically.
4. Patient record requests
Patients are always looking for records of one sort or another. If you have not yet invested in a patient portal, please consider doing so! Portals allow you to push information out to patients, allow patients to access and print certain medical records such as test results and vaccine records, and allow you to answer questions that would otherwise typically tie up your phone lines.
Additionally, you might also want to look into creating certain templates for official forms that can be directly printed from your EHR, with the patient's details completed, as many vendors can now create templates that mirror, say, state requirements for school forms and other official documentation.
5. Managing appointments
Portals are also a great way to have patients request non-urgent visits and help to reduce the call volume for these requests. You might also want to consider an automatic-visit-reminder system such as phone calls or text reminders that patients can sign up for via a company. Not only is it convenient for patients to be reminded of upcoming appointments, this also helps reduce your no-show rate. Furthermore, following up with patients and making sure that they are aware of pending visits can lead to better care coordination and may even help you meet certain measurement criteria under pay-for-performance programs.
6. Easy access to shared files
Keep important documents in one designated area for easy access by a variety of staff members. For example, you may wish to keep physician schedules in an easy-to-access place, so consider having that place be an online repository that anybody can log into from wherever they are. Google Drive or Basecamp are two good solutions for this kind of file-sharing.
So take a good look at your current processes and see what can be automated or streamlined using technology, to help reduce your staff time and busy work. Your staff will thank you for it!
Susanne Madden, MBA, is founder and CEO of The Verden Group, a consulting and business intelligence firm that specializes in practice management, physician education, and healthcare policy. She is also cofounder, Patient Centered Solutions. She can be reached at [email protected] or by visiting www.theverdengroup.com.