The use of technology in the medical profession has grown substantially over the past decade, yet many private practice physicians are not using the technology as extensively as they should. Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) required doctors throughout the country to begin implementing electronic health records (EHR), many private practices have not moved beyond recording patient treatments and test results in an electronic format. There are many new technologies available that provide patients with improved care. In addition, technology offers private practice doctors, nurses and administrators time-saving techniques that may allow more time working with patients and less time dealing with paperwork.
Real-Time Locating Systems
Hospitals have used real-time location systems (RTLS) to track mobile equipment for some time but it has recently begun to see use in private practice as well. Locator badges can be attached to staff ID badges, mobile equipment and even patient charts in an effort to improve the patient experience. The information from patient charts can be used to determine wait times and bottlenecks in the practice in order to improve times patients must wait to see a doctor. Equipment that must be moved from room-to-room in the practice can easily be tracked with the click of a mouse. The system can be used to monitor the amount of time staff spends on a certain task or identify areas where too much time is spent on administrative tasks rather than patient service.
Advanced Entertainment Systems
When patients must wait in an examination room for a physician to arrive, they rarely want to spend the time flipping through outdated magazines. Advanced entertainment systems are available that can occupy the patient as they wait and take their mind off any procedures that are impending. One of the best aspects of advanced entertainment systems is the availability of education videos that can be delivered directly to an exam room with details about any procedure that the patient may need to undergo. This is especially helpful for delivering instructions on after-treatment care although written instructions should still be provided.
Computerized Physician Order Entry
Although it is part of the EHR, computerized physician order entry actually adds another layer to the patient experience. Doctors are able to issue prescription and lab tests digitally. This eliminates errors associated with handwritten orders. Because the electronic records can be cross referenced, any orders that appear extreme or prescriptions that may interact with other medications. There have been studies that indicate computerized physician order entry can reduce medication errors by as much as 55 percent.
Over 75 percent of millennials feel that their doctor should offer them a mobile app to manage their care. There are many private practice apps available that will allow doctors to interact with their patients through their smartphone. Patients can schedule and confirm appointments, make payments and receive secure messages no matter where they are. There are even apps that allow patients to send photos of medical conditions like rashes or swollen joints, allowing healthcare practitioners the ability to determine if they need to be seen immediately or there are over-the-counter options available to resolve the problem.
Patient portals are secure websites that allow patients to access their EHR from their home computer, smartphone or tablet. Portals work similar to apps in that patients can schedule, reschedule or confirm appointments, make payments and refill prescriptions without the need for a phone call. Patient portals are linked to the EHR so that patients can access test results, examination findings or other information they may need as part of their health record. In some cases, patients who have been referred to specialists may obtain copies of x-rays, MRI results or tests so they have them available the specialist’s appointment. Patient portals have shown to be particularly beneficial to patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Because patients can interact with the physician in real-time, management of chronic illnesses is much more effective especially when combined with a behavior change program.
In a recent survey, 58 percent of patients said that technology improves their experience with their doctor. At least five percent said that if their physician offered digital communication technology, they would be more likely to reach out to them and 46% would feel more at-ease asking questions. In addition, 43 percent said they would feel less rushed when asking questions if they could use digital technology. The use of telemedicine has also shown better patient experience. Doctors and patients can use two-way video, secure electronic communications and smartphones to discuss health-related issues. Doctors are also using telemedicine to monitor vital signs and to reach patients in rural settings who may have difficulty visiting the office. Because telemedicine allows for interaction between doctors and patients more quickly than an office visit, diagnosis and treatment can begin more quickly as well. For patients with chronic or long-term illnesses, the availability of home monitoring reduces the number of office visits and allows the patient to be more proactive in their care.
Hands Free Technology
There are many options for hands-free technology that allow physicians and nurses to record patient information without entering it through a keyboard, mouse or writing it down to be entered later. The patient and doctor can interact as the information is being entered. This also saves time that can be spent with the patient without overlapping other patient times. Doctors using hands-free devices have reported as much as a 70 percent increase in patient care.
Patients have reported satisfaction with self-check-in kiosks at doctor’s offices that allow them to check in for an appointment and pay co-pays using a credit card. Kiosks take just over a minute and a half to check in a patient while manual check-ins take as much as three minutes. Doctors who have implemented such kiosks have reported a 96 percent increase in patient satisfaction. However, it is important to keep manual check-in available for patients who are not comfortable using the kiosk or who must pay cash for their co-payments.
With patient health records stored online, paperwork can be significantly reduced. However, many doctors are still requiring patients to complete paper forms that must be then entered into the computer system by an office employee or nurse. Patients must complete medical histories that include details about prescriptions, surgeries and medical issues they have faced in the past. They must provide insurance information and inform the doctor of family histories that could affect their own treatment. Technology now allows doctors to create online forms that the patient can complete from the comfort of their own home before they ever visit the doctor’s office. This allows the patient to take their time, gather information that pertains to their health and respond more thoroughly than through a paper checklist they attempt to complete while sitting in the waiting room. Patients can also update any information routinely by accessing forms through the patient portal so that the office always has the most current information as well as any changes to the patient’s health.
Although electronic health records are becoming standard in all private practices due to the Affordable Care Act, there are many other technologies available for private practices that are designed to improve patient experience. Many of the options are relatively inexpensive while others can be included with other forms of technology, such as patient record programs or cloud-based technology. By improving the technology in a private practice, physicians will find better patient satisfaction, the ability to spend more time with patients in a one-on-one situation and less stress for their staff as procedures are streamlined at the administrative level.