Guest Column | December 17, 2019

4 Things Providers Should Look For In EHR-Integrated Patient Engagement Software

By Dr. Tashfeen Ekram, Luma Health

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Today’s new healthcare technologies are purposely built to integrate with EHR systems to unlock the treasure trove of data and patient insight that sits within them to make healthcare faster, smarter and more effective. The goal of EHR-integrated solutions is to improve patient care and to help ease the burden of physicians, who already feel like they spend way too much time in front of a computer screen. As it stands, seven out of 10 primary care doctors believe EHRs contribute to physician burnout and cut into valuable time they can spend with patients.

When it comes to patient engagement, a new breed of two-way EHR-integrated solutions are making it possible to automatically qualify and schedule patient appointments online thanks to real-time access to EHR-based data such as patient history and insurance. EHR-designed software also has been shown to leverage patient data to help guide patients via automated prompts before and after procedures to make sure both the outcome and experience meet the patients’ needs. EHR-integrated software has the potential to make a big difference in how patients interact with their providers and more easily connect, while also optimizing the quality of health outcomes. For these benefits to manifest, there are a few aspects to consider before deploying any new EHR integrated solutions.

1. Bidirectionality. Any EHR integration should be two-way, meaning information flows back and forth between the EHR system and the clinic’s patient-facing platform and other EHR-integrated technology. Information that only pulls data one way from an EHR simply isn’t good enough.

In the example of EHR-connected patient communication, the system should allow patients to easily interact with messages, whether it’s to reschedule an appointment or make updates to their contact information. Intelligent chatbot technology creates real conversations and enables patients to respond just as they would any other text message in order to manage their appointments, ask questions about their condition, or share information that’s vital to their provider.

For this to work well for healthcare staff, patient messages must result in some action to the EHR, whether it’s removing a canceled appointment, filling a scheduled one, or updating patient information. Forcing healthcare staff to gather that information, open the EHR system and manually input the data can be tedious, time-consuming and more prone to human error. Bidirectionality is key to up-leveling patient communications while keeping things simple for staff.

2. Real-time syncing. With EHR-integrated technology that has two-way, bidirectional syncing in place, clinics should also be stringent on how frequently this syncing happens. Anything that doesn’t at least come close to real-time won’t cut it.

If a patient attempts to schedule an appointment online, for example, they might see availability at 10 a.m. the next morning. They then select the appointment and receive a confirmation message via text. However, someone on the front office team may have just booked that same 10 a.m. appointment slot over the phone. The clinic is now put in a position where it needs to decide who gets to keep the appointment, leading to a tedious game of phone tag and likely resulting in an unhappy patient. Similarly, if a cancellation doesn’t flow into an EHR system in real time, the team member on the phone doesn’t have full visibility into the clinic’s availability.

Real-time syncing prevents these types of headaches. A clinic’s online availability is continuously up to date, an automated waitlist can work to fill open slots without overbooking, and patient information remains current and accurate.

3. Advanced automation. EHR systems are already creating countless administrative challenges among staff, so adding additional computer-based tasks to clinical workflows will only compound that. Manual uploading, syncing, and updating are now largely things of the past. Automating tasks such as patient appointment reminders and feedback collection frees up staff time while also reducing their screen time. Fewer clicks leads to happier staff members, who in turn provide a better experience to patients.

Most people working in healthcare entered the field because they like helping people. There are few things more rewarding than playing an integral role in someone else’s wellbeing. What most professionals in the industry don’t want to spend time on, however, is the number of mundane administrative tasks that come along with delivering care. Automating these labor-intensive duties not only improves the staff experience by making it more efficient, it boosts staff morale by helping them focus more on doing what they actually love.

4. Intuitive user interface. EHR-integrated technology shouldn’t require constant monitoring, over-complicated setup or hours of staff training. The new technology should be seamless and easy-to-use out of the box.

The first step to this is a low-stress setup process. In most cases, the EHR-integrated technology provider should handle the bulk of it and require little time and effort on the part of providers. Integration should be able to happen quickly — in a matter of days, not weeks or months. Another critical component is an intuitive interface. Once logged in, integrating and navigating the various functionalities such as chatting with patients or pulling availability reports should feel natural.

EHR-integrated technology holds loads of promise. Providers and physicians have an enormous number of administrative responsibilities that have little to do with actually providing care to their patients yet still taxes their time and their energy. EHR-powered software can remove some of that burden by automating processes and even support preventive care thanks to automated patient follow-up and reactivation of patients who are due for a visit or who are managing chronic conditions.

The innovation around EHR-integrated software is only growing stronger, and so are the options of solutions to consider. Knowing what to look for when it comes to a few key characteristics can make all the difference to ensure a successful deployment that helps improve patient experience and provider processes.

About The Author

Dr. Tashfeen Ekram is Chief Medical Officer and Co-founder of Luma Health.