The medical community spends a lot of time discussing the need for interoperability. EHR systems have long been the target of complaints from professionals ranging from nursing staff to hospital administrators. Countless startup companies are building software to integrate various aspects of digital medical records. The idea is to streamline the collection and transmission of patient information so that accurate and actionable insights can be drawn.
Our industry has a long way to go, though. With EHRs, information is for the most part input manually. This increases the burden on medical practitioners from a paperwork standpoint and reduces the time they have available for patients. Valuable features of EHRs are therefore offset by the disruptions they cause. (For an excellent discussion of this debate, please check out this article from FierceHealthcare.) So, what can you do to help move healthcare in the right direction while pushing your practice towards greater integration of health IT tools?
First, in the easier said than done category, build your own tool. This is extreme, but not a joke. If you see a lack of interoperability and you think, “why doesn’t it work like [x]?” take your next lunch break and poke around online to see if there’s someone working to make “it” work like “x.” If not (and, potentially, even if so), why not you? The best way to help attain a fully integrated healthcare system is to build part of it yourself. Starting a company to solve a specific problem isn’t necessarily the right approach for everyone, though, so there are other options.
More realistically, emphasize standards-based tools. Rather than each piece of software built with unique formats and settings, health IT systems built on a common set of standards can do something kind of shocking: they can talk to each other. The government is working on legislation to mandate standards across EHRs and other healthcare tools. You can help accelerate this effort by seeking out existing standards-based tools and using market forces to push companies to bring everything in line.
A corollary of the above is the importance of providing thorough training for your staff. Interoperability can only be achieved when the systems for getting there are used as intended. We understand that this can create a disincentive for switching services, because training sessions will likely interfere with revenue generating operations. Still, the long-term benefits of a well-trained workforce who both use and advocate for interoperable systems are significant. And it’s likely that everyone will have to switch or at least adapt eventually as new standards come online, so why not get a jump on the process?
Another method to improve interoperability is actually tangential to the traditional industry definition of the term: find ways to improve intra-office communications. From our perspective, intra-office communication is a neglected area that also plays a significant role in healthcare delivery. Answering services are a legacy technology that, like EHR silos, are holding the industry back from the ideal of streamlined and fully integrated patient care.
Care team communications are a variation on the broader idea of interoperability, which is simply the ability to extract and use information at the moment when it is needed. Most of the conversation focuses on “big” problems like how different EHRs can interact, or how to pull structured data from handwritten notes. We talk less about making conversations within a practice group easier, and making information from those conversations actionable.
Patients tell their stories to providers. Providers tell those stories to each other. Decisions are made based on those stories and, finally, the decisions are relayed back to the patients. Success in the end depends on precision at each step. This means clear and consistent documentation of everything, letting patients tell their full stories and making the right notes for posterity.
Without the right combination of tools and training in place, precision gives way to ambiguity. This is why we are so emphatic in pushing medical practices to reconsider their use of legacy communications technology. We don’t want you to dump your medical answering service because we have a replacement product to sell you, we built a replacement product to sell because those answering services weren’t getting the job done. Legacy communication technologies lead to the same types of inefficiencies and mistakes that siloed EHRs do, maybe just on a different scale.
A good communications tool like the BeckonCall platform reduces inefficiencies (less paper, fewer steps and people involved) and increases accuracy (drag-and-drop setup, audio and text records of calls). As a result, practices can become more effective internally, but also have better documentation to incorporate into interoperable systems. And, as time goes on, we are more likely to see individual health IT tools become interoperable with larger systems such as EHRs.
Looking to improve your practice’s interoperability? Contact us to discuss how a medical communications platform can help.