By Khalid Al-Maskari
Cost aside, the U.S. has one of the highest-performing health care systems in the world, yet astonishingly, 1 in 10 Americans die from some kind of medical error. And nearly 2 out of 3 of those errors is rooted in poor communication among the care team.
These are troubling truths even as providers and systems focus more intensively on integrating health care to reduce mistakes and improve outcomes. Clinicians are still struggling to effectively share patient histories and treatment plans among multiple care teams, including primary and secondary care, emergency and outpatient care, and teams treating disparate comorbidities.
A classic disconnect is the failure to collaborate when behavioral health conditions addressed by one clinician and the physical ailments that are being treated by another are not coordinated. Consider a patient whose substance abuse disorder stems from chronic back pain, or the diabetes patient who is obese and overeating due to unresolved childhood trauma. In each case, you have multiple conditions likely requiring the care of clinicians in a variety of disciplines. If teams don’t coordinate closely, the chances for optimal outcomes plummet.
Technology barriers foil coordination
Even though all of the notes, visits, prescriptions, diagnostics, and other records pertaining to a patient may be stored online, that doesn’t mean they’re easily accessible to every busy clinician who sees the patient. It’s simply too hard to complete required tasks at the right time and in the right place without having to continually switch between multiple devices and applications.
As a result, clinicians face a difficult choice. Either they embark on a time-consuming hunt for records, often across multiple EHR systems, or they simply treat the patient based on what they know at the time of the visit. The latter is a common scenario. Unfortunately, even the most comprehensive treatment plan is likely to fail without connecting and coordinating all health care providers involved. And that’s not easy.
More often than not, clinicians are simply doing their best amid IT and data challenges. Providers are forced to learn and navigate multiple applications for scheduling, treatment notes, prescriptions, referrals, etc., each demanding different log-in credentials. As a result, clinicians often feel as if they’re spending more time on administrative tasks and not enough time on healing. However, resources are available through the mobile devices that health care providers use every day to improve communication between each other and their patients.
Three ways to improve care coordination
Here are three ways to leverage technology to better coordinate care and reduce the likelihood of avoidable errors:
- Leverage the power of a mobile device. Americans spend an average of four or more hours a day looking at their smartphone, and the device is usually close by during the remaining 19 or 20 hours. According to a HIMSS Analytics study, 80% of C-suite executives, IT pros, clinicians and health care department heads already use tablets, and 43% use smartphones to provide and coordinate care. This makes mobile devices ideal to not only house information for easy clinician access, but also to reduce errors related to medical care that can lead to longer treatment and increased costs. As a result, integrated patient records should be on the smartphone as well as any other mobile device a clinician is likely to use all day, including tablets, laptops and desktop computers. Integrated records should also be easily accessible through every channel a clinician is likely to use, including email, IM, EHRs, patient portals, internal video conferencing and telehealth.
- Recognize voices. If you can command your phone to text a friend, clinicians should be able to speak, rather than type, information into systems managing appointments, orders, lab reports, treatment plan updates, prescriptions, visit verifications and more. It would be easy, intuitive, and efficient to share information with other providers this way. Built-in artificial intelligence capabilities can further expedite this feature and offer predictive speech-to-text, to further help clinicians more quickly get back to patient care.
- Enable patient participation. If a provider desires, it should be easy to invite patients into a tailored section of the shared environment (with appropriate exclusions), providing them with integrated access to scheduling, health records, prescription refills, lab results and educational materials. Clinicians could use the same platform to ensure prescription adherence, monitor patient behaviors, set goals, monitor vitals and coach patients into adopting preventive behaviors. Even basic patient engagement can be cost-effective, reducing the need for administrative assistants to phone patients with appointment reminders.
A mobile integrated care solution like this could significantly streamline and improve how and where clinicians interact and access information, enabling timely decisions for more coordinated and efficient care. The technology would provide an accurate and complete picture of a patient’s treatment, enabling quick access to their records and securely sharing electronic information with other clinicians. As a result, it would mitigate communication breakdowns, ultimately optimizing patient care, and decreasing costs.
This futuristic-sounding technology is already here in the form of AxiaGram, a HIPAA-compliant, simple-to-use AI-powered mobile EHR app that integrates with any EHR to allow for better communication and patient care.
High-performing health care teams are the foundation for delivering effective and seamless integrated care and are most successful when they have the most accurate and timely info at their fingertips. Let’s give it to them.
Khalid Al-Maskari is founder and CEO of Health Information Management Systems (HiMS), a Tucson, Ariz.-based company that designs Electronic Health Records (EHR) software to transform the integrated health care experience. HiMS creates innovative solutions that lead to better outcomes, lower costs and higher-quality care.