By Christine Duncan
Automation, digitization, and integration hold a lot of potential to help healthcare providers deliver exceptional patient care and solve business challenges each day. Yet despite the benefits, healthcare lags other industries in leveraging digital technologies, a recent survey reveals that only 32% of U.S. physicians and 27% consumers rated their healthcare system as performing well in terms of introducing these technologies.
As practices move into the future, particularly one reshaped by the COVID-19 crisis where both clinical care and administrative functions are often performed remotely, providers have an opportunity to rethink the way they use technology and how it differentiates them from competition.
Solutions that work well together deliver the kinds of performance benefits that take practices to a higher level of care provision. Among practices that have implemented digital solutions, many struggle with inefficiencies that result from using piecemeal software applications that just don’t mesh. The recent need to redistribute much of the healthcare workforce has highlighted how the use of separate electronic health records (EHR), telehealth, practice management, and billing and data analytics platforms can bring operational difficulties. As disparate systems fail to integrate, providers duplicate efforts to sync and communicate the information from patient encounters, putting patient safety at risk while losing man hours.
One approach to streamline practice management is to have a flexible solution that can be customized to meet the unique needs of the practice and is fully interoperable with all other internal applications, regardless of location. Through customizable, scalable technology, practices can achieve efficiencies through reduced administrative costs and enhanced patient engagement, which may also lead to improved outcomes.
Patient-centered tools for self-service culture
The goal for any practice is to implement technology that enhances patient connection to their providers, demonstrates respect for their time and preferences, and enables them to maintain better health. These include offerings that allow patients to easily access their medical records and check on their test results; get educational materials on a specific condition; fill out forms for a streamlined check-in; schedule appointments and set preferences for practice communications; and even share health metrics from wearables for disease monitoring so that patients can be proactive about their care.
Well-designed tools enable a self-service culture in healthcare that patients have come to expect from other businesses such as retail. The self-service culture is streamlined, flexible and on their terms, enabling engagement with health providers from anywhere at any time. That sense of connection is always present with practice management solutions that accommodate text, email and mobile communications with patients. Whether patients are checking the status of a prescription refill or paying a recent bill online, they expect their needs will be met with only a few clicks – and the practice staff do not have to be involved. Likewise, providers can use automated tools to touch base with “check-ins,” health and appointment reminders, and even birthday wishes to facilitate stronger relationships with patients.
By automating the delivery of routine patient-focused services and communications and offering self-service tools, providers also improve administrative workflows of the practice. For example, when technology offers online appointment scheduling and medication refill requests via patient portal, it can take the pressure off the front-desk staff who are often rushing to address these tasks during regular working hours. By offering patients access to these services any time of day or night, the provider demonstrates he values their time and the time and energy of the staff.
To that end, it’s important that all technology platforms are customizable to the practice’s workflow so that users experience fewer clicks and faster results. Notes, reports, tabs and dashboards can be designed with the practice’s or specific provider’s needs in mind, enabling a smoother workflow and possibly increased throughput of patients.
As telemedicine visits have surged in light of COVID-19, up by 50% in March, according to Frost and Sullivan, ensuring that practice management and EHR systems “play well” with the telemedicine application is key. Providers can achieve efficiencies and reduce overhead through a telemedicine platform integrated with the rest of the practice’s software, allowing scheduling, consulting and billing within one system and workflow.
Moreover, an integrated practice approach allows managers to regularly monitor their financial performance, accounts receivable, and claims denials according to their personal preferences. Detailed insights about business operations help managers tweak processes for continuous improvement. By building reporting analytics right into the workflow, they can leverage information in a meaningful and timely manner to identify challenges, pinpoint solutions and discover new opportunities for positive change. Applications of these insights include maintaining compliance with CMS rules and regulations for Medicare populations, and improving claims submissions to reduce denials and rejections.
Integrating various functionalities to support a unified, cohesive workflow can improve practice’s business operations and patient care. When practices realize the full benefits of digitization, automation and integration, they can surmount ongoing challenges and thrive in new ways.
Christine Duncan is Group Product Manager, Practice Management at AdvancedMD.