EHR, Emails Can Make or Break Your Practice’s Success
When implementing or updating your practice’s electronic health record (EHR) system, an independent think tank cautions that sometimes the prescribed cure to a practice’s communications problems may make them sicker.
The Centers for Studying Health System Change surveyed providers, EHR vendors, and other experts to determine how EHRs and other advancements affect communication with patients and providers. Results may help you more carefully implement EHRs and other new tools in your practice.
While EHRs, instant messaging (IM), and email allow information to be quickly transferred, they can prove distracting in the exam room. “It’s like having a two year-old in the room,” one survey respondent said. Instant messages from other providers, focusing solely on a computer screen’s prompts, and other distractions may interrupt direct communication with the patient. In addition, busy providers report falling into a trap of asking the EHR’s prompted check box questions and fewer open-ended questions, allowing them to miss elements not on the EHR template.
However, providers say they can pull up the patient’s previous visit, test, and radiological information before entering the exam room, freeing them to spend more time evaluating the patient. The study says EHRs in the exam room had either a neutral or positive impact on perceptions of provider-patient communication in terms of overall quality of communication about medical and psychosocial issues. However, other studies find that already inadequate provider-patient communication skills did not improve after EHRs were implemented.
Providers who utilize email with their patients believe email broke barriers and improved the quality of the provider-patient relationship by enhancing communications in-between visits and reducing telephone tag. Providers also found email with other providers boosts communication with peers, making it easier to share information about particular patients.
But participants caution that providers and practice managers should define and train staff on what information should be communicated one-on-one and what should be communicated via email or the EHR. For complicated situations, participants say nothing should replace the interactive aspect of face-to-face or phone conversations.
To implement EHR systems for the first time or when upgrading, remember these communication tips from the survey:
- Evaluate existing communication providers have with their patients and with others, and then develop a plan to improve it before upgrading EHRs.
- Engineer the EHR and its use so patients remain the primary focus of the visit.
- See if the EHR vendor will develop the template to prompt for more open-ended questions.
- Identify and train providers and staff on how to best use EHRs, email, and instant message and when a situation absolutely requires one-on-one communications.