Healthcare is rapidly changing thanks to value-based reimbursement, expensive medications and therapies, a focus on patient experience and increasing administrative burdens. Physicians, therefore, have no choice but to continuously adapt and evolve to remain true to the purpose of helping and healing patients. Technology plays a critical role in this evolution, and EHRs have to balance the need to continuously add new tools that enhance physicians’ decision-making and meet requirements to add more features that support regulatory and administrative processes.
Embracing new technologies, whether to streamline or improve clinical care, can be time-consuming, require workflow changes and even add time to a patient visit to fully realize the benefits. But that investment of time and energy can help physicians work smarter — eliminating rework, making decisions with complete patient information and streamlining communications with other caregivers — by taking advantage of tools that already exist in many EHRs.
Here are five places physicians can start:
1. Discuss medication costs with patients
With the growing dichotomy between cheap, generic medications and incredibly expensive biologics or other new brand-name drugs, the cost of medications cannot be ignored during physicians’ decision-making process. The easiest path for physicians is to simply focus on the clinical aspects when choosing a medication. But when cost is not considered during the prescribing process, patients are often surprised by the cost at the pharmacy. That could lead to medication noncompliance and the need to revisit patients’ records later with calls from the pharmacy to ask for medication changes.
Many EHRs support prescription price transparency, whereby physicians can see patients’ specific out-of-pocket cost and potential lower cost alternatives during the prescribing process. Importantly, EHRs have made it easy to review the options and choose a less expensive therapy (or an alternative therapy that does not require a prior authorization) before completing the prescribing process.
Reviewing the economic information about medications may add time to an already short office visit, but it can improve medication compliance and the overall patient experience while preventing phone calls, rework and prior authorizations. Physicians often have a sense of which classes of drugs are expensive; by seeing patients’ specific out-of-pocket cost information and potential alternatives during the prescribing process, physicians can potentially save patients hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year while achieving the same clinical outcomes.
2. Communicate with other physicians
Talk is not cheap in healthcare. Taking the time to discuss a patient’s care with other physicians comes at the cost of potentially seeing more patients or leaving the office earlier. In the past, the only options were phone calls, letters, face-to-face discussions or faxes.
Today, there are a host of new communication methods that can eliminate time-consuming communication, including intra-practice communications within an EHR, inter-practice communications with direct messaging in the EHR, secure email and secure text messaging. These have increased the ease of sharing patient data and speed of communications. But they come at the cost of additional information for physicians to digest and assimilate, which can quickly become overwhelming.
Fortunately, direct messaging has a unique advantage because the message is transmitted securely, is incorporated into the workflow of the EHR, works across different vendors of EHRs and can include attachments with clinical information from the chart. Together, these capabilities are especially valuable to replace faxing and letters in areas such as referrals. In addition, physicians can define processes to triage incoming direct message communications with office staff and create fail-safe models to ensure critical communications are acted on in a timely manner.
3. Retrieve information instantly from outside of the practice
Prior to EHRs, it was common to make critical decisions in a vacuum. Physicians, especially those on call or when admitting a patient in the hospital, would not have access to paper charts or historical data from outside sources.