Four Ways Your EHR Can Improve Patient Engagement

Patient engagement is about involving the patient in their own care. So use one of your key tech tools - your EHR - to help boost that involvement.

At its core, improving patient engagement is about involving the patient in their own care, and as a result, enhancing outcomes.

EHRs are often blamed for a decline in patient interaction, as some physicians are forced to spend more time looking at their screens and less time making eye contact with their patients. However, if leveraged properly, EHRs can actually allow for more effective interactions with patients during visits. The result will be a more collaborative form of care.

Here are four specific ways that physicians can use EHRs to enhance patient engagement:

1. Take advantage of your patient portal.

The patient portal can play a big role in increasing patient engagement since it is a secure repository and communication tool for a  practice. It is a tool that both physicians and patients can actively use for sending/receiving reminders for preventative or follow-up care, sending patient education materials, receiving patient questions and requests, scheduling/changing appointments, and more.

A patient portal can be extremely beneficial to patients because it allows them to actively manage their care and can also help solve their common pain points. For example, getting lab results has traditionally been a tedious process, but the ability to access results on-demand through a portal can be a huge time saver for patients.

2. Leverage solutions that extend your EHR capabilities.

There are various forms of technology that can help physicians achieve a higher level of patient engagement, working in conjunction with your EHR, such as  interfaces connecting to other products or solutions.

For example, using speech recognition software can increase the speed and accuracy with which patient records are created. As a result, physicians have more time to interact with patients in the exam room during visits. According to a 2014 Medscape EHR report, 70 percent of respondents said their EHR "decreases their face-to-face time with patients." Leveraging speech recognition software can allow physicians to directly combat this common barrier.

Laboratory, radiology, and medical device interfaces can also help support patient engagement - these interfaces allow physicians to automate their work flow, and import results into patient portals for patients to access at their leisure. Additionally, there are features built into many EHRs that physicians can leverage to encourage patients to be more proactive in their healthcare, such as reminders, clinical decision support alerts, a report writer, etc.

3. Empower patients through visual display data.

Another common pain point for patients is the amount of time physicians spend typing, touching, and looking at the computer screen during visits. One easy way to remove the barrier of the computer screen is by involving the patient through visual display of their data in the exam room. Visual integration connects patients with the process without them feeling overwhelmed.

Internist James Legan does exactly this in his practice by projecting Amazing Charts EHR from his laptop onto flat screen TVs in his exam rooms, inviting patients to view their medical charts, prescriptions, lab reports, radiology images, and more. "Most of my patients really enjoy seeing their BMI graphs, medical history, radiology images, and other medical information. It gets them more engaged with their own health," explained Legan.

Legan's approach is just one way to use visual integration of data to encourage patients to participate in shared decision making. Other solutions can be as simple as physicians sitting next to patients and sharing their screen.

4. Use the EHR for shared decision making and education.

Shared decision making involves physicians and patients determining the best care options together, rather than the clinician making care decisions for the patient. This modern approach of delivering care can play an integral role in patient engagement since it empowers patients to choose care based on their unique values and perspectives.

EHRs allow physicians to easily share their role in the shared decision-making process with patients by demonstrating the use of clinical decision support tools. EHRs can also make it easy for patients to review education materials along with their clinician, giving them a better understanding of their conditions and providing deeper insight into their clinician's recommendations than previously available. Many EHRs have a collection of educational materials physicians can access at a moment's notice and share with patients via patient portal or through printouts sent home with the patient.

Patients can play a role in optimizing their outcomes through activities such as identifying individual values, motivations, and health management skills prior to their next visit, reviewing literature provided via the EHR, and using the patient portal to communicate between visits.

John Squire is president and chief operating officer of Amazing Charts, providers of EHR technology. Squire has more than 26 years of software industry experience, including 12 years in health and life sciences. He was previously senior director of alliances and cloud strategy for Microsoft’s U.S. Health and Life Sciences Business Unit, responsible for the partner ecosystem in healthcare and life sciences, including all major EHR solutions and systems integrators. E-mail him here.