MedCity Influencers

People become doctors to treat patients. Here’s how to make that possible

Three areas in which automation and digitization are already helping physicians focus more of their time on engagement, counsel and treatment are collaboration, patient education and two-way communication with patients.

patient engagement

Most physicians go into the medical profession to help their patients lead a healthy and fulfilling life. At its height, it is rewarding and energizing work. In fact, physicians indicate that relationships with their patients are their greatest source of professional satisfaction.

However, physicians have an enormous number of administrative responsibilities that have little to do with actually providing care to their patients that taxes their time and their energy. These include activities such as documenting each patient interaction, coordinating care with other providers and re-creating and reviewing a patient’s entire medical history before each visit. This heavy load of tedious activities is increasingly taking physicians’ attention away from their patients and leading to burnout.

One might think that modern technology has eased this burden, but in many cases digitization has actually increased the workload of physicians. For many, the introduction of new technologies has generated more tasks because it demands increased documentation. The good news is there is plenty of room for innovation to automate these tasks and support physicians so they can open up their schedules and prevent fatigue, as well as return their focus to where it should be during appointments — on their patients.

Three areas in which automation and digitization are already helping physicians focus more of their time on engagement, counsel and treatment are:

  • Improved collaboration. To improve efficiency, care teams are beginning to collaborate online, quickly bringing together the right people to make faster and better decisions on specific steps in the patient’s care. They are in turn engaging with patients via text messaging, and inviting relevant team members into the conversation to privately collaborate on a patient’s care before responding directly to them. Improved collaboration keeps physicians informed of key moments along the patient journey.

There is still progress to be made, but collaboration is trending in the right direction. While providers are still struggling with the interoperability of EHR systems to be able to share records seamlessly from provider to provider, initiatives such as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) indicate that it is not far off.

  • Early patient education. Based on a patient’s diagnosis, physicians are sending content such as short articles or videos to their patients prior to their next appointment to educate them on their condition and prepare them for what to expect during treatment. For example, Dr. Medhavi Jogi, an endocrinologist based of Houston, Texas, began sending videos to new patients with basic information about their diagnosis. “When the patient arrives at our practice, they’re much more engaged,” he said. “Armed with some basic knowledge, they come ready with thoughtful questions, and the appointment is much more productive.” This education and improved provider-patient communications can help drive greater patient loyalty and relationships, and further focuses in-person appointments on more substantive discussions.

  • Two-way communication with patients outside of appointments. Automated two-way communication with patients can help improve rapport with their physicians, as they can receive a greater amount of attention and care on on a consistent basis, rather than just during traditional visits. Technology allows physicians to send personalized interactive text messages that patients can respond to just like they would any other text message. After a procedure, for example, a patient might receive a message that asks if they are experiencing bleeding or any other discomfort. If they answer “no,” an automated message will respond with reminders to keep drinking fluids and keep up with their medication. If they answer “yes,” the message might prompt the patient to make an appointment as soon as possible.

This type of messaging gives patients improved control over their own care, as their providers can now answer their questions on topics such as symptoms and recovery in a timely manner. Consistent two-way communication also empowers the physician with a clearer view of each  patient’s healthcare journey, including symptoms that they have recently experienced and medications they’ve been prescribed. Equipped with this knowledge, the physician is in a better position to recommend a course of treatment, prescribe medications and help improve health outcomes.

As it currently stands, a typical 20-minute physical may require a doctor to catch up on everything relevant that has happened to the patient since their last visit, review their current medications and assess their currency on important vaccinations or cancer screenings. All of that can leave little time for the physician to actually listen to the patient and assess their current health or address important and  timely questions that are critical to their care. If the doctor is made aware of all of this pertinent information ahead of time, they can spend the majority of appointment times actually treating their patients.

Employee burnout is on the rise in the healthcare industry, jumping 20 percent from 2011 to 2014. To ease the burden, technology-based approaches are emerging to simplify and improve the efficiency of the administrative tasks that are the primary cause of this burnout, allowing them to place a greater focus on what they truly care about: treating patients.

Photo: mathisworks, Getty Images

 

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