Leading-Edge Innovations in Patient-Provider Communications

Date: 10.01.2014 | HITC Editor


Healthcare IT Connect sat down with Calvin Togashi, Pharm.D.,M.S., Partner, HealthQEC/formerly with Kaiser Permanente to discuss challenges physicians are faced with today around patient-provider communications and how through advanced improvements best outcomes can achieved.

Healthcare IT Connect: What are some of the challenges facing patient-provider communications?

Calvin Togashi: Time is the biggest challenge. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 1.2 billion office visits in 2010. For physicians, there just is not enough time in a 10 minute office visit to address current and chronic medical issues. After the office visit, there is even less time available for following up, sharing information and making decisions with patients. Meanwhile, in between office visits, patients often have more questions about their medical issues and treatment.
Lack of integration is another challenge. Physicians know what they want to communicate to patients, but the information is trapped in multiple systems – vital signs, appointments, laboratory results, prescription refills, registries, demographics and contact information. Some electronic medical records have integration between systems. Others are stand-alone islands that require manually pulling together information for each patient. Physicians want integrated system where they can filter diabetic patients for elevated hemoglobin A1c, check for the last oral hypoglycemic prescription refill and send patients encouragement for diet and exercise in just a few clicks.

HIT: Can you describe some of the important messages that physicians may want to send patients?

CT: There is a wide variety of messages including reminders, information messages, notifications and alerts. Reminder messages could be for an upcoming office visit, procedure or imaging appointment while information messages publicize health fairs, blood drives, prescription mail order savings or exercise and nutrition tips. Notifications may cover missed appointments, refills waiting in the pharmacy or pending laboratory order. Finally, alerts require action like a drug recall, poor air quality for asthmatics and appointment changes.

HIT: In a busy physician practice, how can the office staff help deliver these messages?

CT: The method to deliver messages needs to match the patient’s preference. All patients are not technologists! Some patient prefer paper. Other patients prefer phone calls, emails or text messages. Likewise patients may have language preferences. Physician practices that cover a wide geography may also see differences in affluent and less affluent areas.
The office staff need to review current practices for contacting patients. Manual phone calls and letters are very labor intensive. Consideration should be given to changing the delivery workflow and automation of processes to match patient preferences. The goal should be to increase patient satisfaction while decreasing staff effort. Our Prompt Outreach tool can deliver individualized outreach messages by email, pdf letters and text messages.

HIT: Why should physician practices invest in patient-provider communications today?

CT: Patient workloads continue to grow for physicians and office staff. Better communication can reduce manual work, refocus staff on their unique skill sets, organize the flow of information and lead to improved physician, staff and patient satisfaction.

HIT: Where will advances in technology take patient-provider communications?

CT: As health related sensors improve and become ubiquitous, there will be an explosion in individualized data collected continuously. Monitoring of vital signs, physical activity, electrolytes, glucose, hormones and drugs, measurements once available only in the hospital, will be readily available from transdermal, corneal or ingested sensors. The next challenge is to correlate sensor data with individualized patient outcomes and communication between patients and providers how to steer care delivery toward the best outcomes.

Calvin Togashi presented at the 2014 Accountable Care And Health IT Strategies Summit, Chicago IL, September 2014.  The session Patient Portals: Effective Approaches and Future Trends can be viewed on demand, in HD video with accompanying PPT. To subscribe to view the presentation please register here  

Calvin Togashi, Pharm.D.,M.S., Partner, HealthQEC/formerly with Kaiser Permanente
Matt Sarrel, Healthcare Expert; GigaOm Analyst; CEO and Founder of Sarrel Group
Jonathan C. Silverstein, VP Biomedical Research Informatics, NorthShore University Health System
Lauren Sullivan, Director Application Services, Sinai Health System  

Challenges created by the ever-growing demand of patient needs, changes in healthcare delivery as a result of The Affordable Care Act, HIPAA regulations, and the HITECH mandate, physicians and healthcare providers must rapidly adapt to an ever-changing environment. To maximize efficiency, enhanced communication between providers and patients, and provide consistent high quality care to patients, new platforms that integrate medical care and digital technology are being developed and deployed. Communications technology encompassing a broad range of tools such as smartphone applications, outbound messaging, emails, patient portals, telemedicine and more are continuously evolving.

» What is your organization currently doing, or what have you seen other organizations doing, regarding patient portals?
». Patient portals can provide a host of benefits: streamlining, provider workflow, improving patient-provider communications, improving quality of care, etc. From the implementations that you’ve seen, what are their strong points and where could they be improved?
» For those organizations without a patient portal, what are some other ways to enhance and streamline Patient-Provider communication?/br> » There are many interesting innovations and new technologies enhancing Patient-Provider communication? What are some of the more successful case studies or use cases have you seen and what are the factors that lead to their success?
» Any parting words of wisdom for our audience?

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