How Technology Helps Practices Manage More Medicaid Patients

August 16, 2013

Technology can help medical groups accommodate more patients, in addition to improving efficiency and outcomes.

Not every physician is on board with CMS’ EHR Incentive program, and many still desire to stick to their paper-based ways. However, as technology becomes more sophisticated and a growing number of doctors become acclimated with screens and buttons, the timing, perhaps, couldn’t be more serendipitous.

The Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion provision, which most states as of now plan to adopt, is expected to create a surge of new patients seeking primary care. At the same time, more than one study is projecting a shortage of primary-care physicians over the next decade. The timing of the shortage and the influx has led physician practices that plan to continue serving Medicaid patients to wonder how they’ll fit in so many new ones (though Medicaid reimbursement will reportedly increase for a few years for states that expand).

Healthcare technology, when used correctly, can help a medical group accommodate an influx of patients - in addition to making a practice more efficient overall and improving outcomes.

Family physician Reid Blackwelder, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians, says he’s encouraged providers are taking advantage of patient portals.

“Sometimes in a list of ten things [a patient needs], eight of them could have been handled by an electronic portal by a nurse or other staff member,” Blackwelder told Physicians Practice. “That means they come in with a list of two things, instead of ten things.”

Brad Boyd, a healthcare consultant and vice president at Culbert Healthcare Solutions, also agreed that patient portals “helps practices stay on top of things” by sending reminders to patients, and aiding practices with scheduling, for example.

Practices are also saving time by integrating scheduling systems with their EHRs and incorporating rules engines, such as exam alerts for patients with diabetes, he said.

Consumer-oriented technology used by patients and physicians also holds promise. And while virtual physicals certainly aren’t expected to replace live ones, the technology is helping patients to manage their health. Especially since more patients are using phones to look up health information (one in three, according to a 2012 report by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project).

Also, we’re seeing strides in telemedicine, which allows physicians to make virtual visits, and in home monitoring. Only a few years ago, for example, devices such as home blood-pressure monitors only allowed patients to record information, which would usually be stored for later delivery to the practice. Today's devices transmit data to care providers in real time over Wi-Fi or cellular networks, often using smartphone apps that connect with monitoring equipment to measure everything from blood pressure to heart rate to oxygen saturation in the blood.

While all gear and gadgetry does require money - and now may be a particularly tough time to come about it - many practices say the return on investment comes pretty quickly.

How are you using technology to better manage your patients, or accommodate more of them?