By Diane Palombi, OD
June 1, 2016
Congratulations. You have implemented your electronic health records system into your practice. Now, have you wondered if your new EHR system is more efficient than your old paper patient records? Recently I had an encounter that made me question whether it really is.
Your EHR can enhance the ease and convenience of your patients’ visits to your office–if you ensure the patient-facing portions of it are simple to use.
I woke up my last full day in my second home in Florida feeling horrible. We were supposed to travel that morning, but that was out of the question. I did not have a primary care physician there. So, instead of spending hours on the phone in hope of finding a doctor who would see a new patient that same day, I decided to go to an urgent care facility in hope of getting medication, so that I would feel well enough to travel the next day.
Make EHR Work for Your Patients
ALLOW PATIENTS TO FILL OUT FORMS ONLINE. In a prominent area of your practice web site homepage, have a link patients can click to fill out forms ahead of their visit.
DIRECT PATIENTS ONLINE. When patients make an appointment by phone, have the receptionist tell patients they can fill out the forms ahead of time online, and when making an appointment via your web site, direct patients with a pop-up window, or impossible-to-miss link, to fill out the forms online.
INSTRUCT PATIENTS. Have the receptionist, or another staff member, instruct patients in the use of your EHR’s patient portal, including helping them sign in for the first time, so they will be able to easily access forms and their own records in the future.
SOLICIT PATIENT FEEDBACK. If you have specialized tablets for patients to use to fill out forms in the office, observe and ask them how easy the devices were to use. Then, if necessary, make improvements based on their input.
OFFER AN ALTERNATIVE. Allow patients who have trouble with online forms and in-office tablets to fill out paper forms. —ROB Editors
Fortunately, the practice was not busy when I walked in. The receptionist gave me a tablet to fill out the patient history and other pertinent information. I don’t know whether the problem was the software program or the machine, but it was taking a very long time to complete the forms. I had to type hard with the stylist on the keys to get my responses to enter. It took a while for the screen to advance to the next page.
As I was working on the information, I was thinking about how some of my former patients would have responded to these patient forms. The tablet could have ended up being flung across the waiting room. I had a simple one-page paper form that still got complaints about being too long from a few patients.
Around 10 minutes into filling out the information, an elderly woman in a wheelchair came in. She was a new patient also. However, the receptionist gave her paper forms to fill out. Would you believe that she was finished before me even though I had an ample head start! So, I got bumped in line to see the doctor. You would think being a doctor would have given me the upper hand at filling out medical forms.
I was pretty frustrated. As I was working on the information, I was thinking about how EHR was one of the reasons that I am now retired. Imagine spending all that money on a system that aggravates your patients. I will admit that I have filled out forms electronically at other establishments that went more smoothly. However, how do you know what you are getting?
I also will admit that I am not too tech-savvy. I could have ended up purchasing one of these frustrating systems. Can you test drive a system before you purchase it? What do you do after purchasing a system that ends up not being a good fit for your practice?
Then there is the maintenance issue. Perhaps I had a bad tablet. How often should you check your equipment? You can’t rely on your patients to tell you because they may not have a clue that it is malfunctioning. Who is responsible for fixing or replacing defective equipment?
Hopefully this was an isolated incident. But I have a feeling that this may not be my only bad encounter with EHR forms.
It may not be a bad idea for your staff to ask your patients how well the electronic form process went. Patients do not like to spend a long time filling out forms. If a computer glitch is making the process even longer that can be very frustrating. Electronic forms are part of modern-day technology. We just need to make certain that ours are patient-friendly.
Do you solicit your patients’ feedback about their interactions with your EHR system, including the part of the system patients use to fill out forms?
Diane Palombi, OD, now retired,owned Palombi Vision Center in Wentzville, Mo. To contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org