How a family health team is elevating their EMR.

With 85% of Canadian primary care physicians now using an EMR, it is safe to say that the EMR is part of the delivery of healthcare in Canada. Add the right tools, and the EMR becomes a powerful digitally connected hub that supports practitioners and brings the patient care experience to a whole new level.

The Toronto Western Family Health Team (TWFHT) is continually expanding the potential of their EMR. For over a decade, they have relied on PS Suite and EMR add-ons to help them manage data, communicate with other care providers and specialists, and engage their patients.

Part of the University Health Network (UHN), the TWFHT provides family health services to more than 27,000 patients at two Toronto locations: the Bathurst clinic – an academic site located in Toronto Western Hospital – with over 1,000 patients a week; and Garrison Creek at Oakwood and Vaughan where 550 patients visit a week, and that number is growing.

Sandra Palmer, the team’s Quality Improvement Decision Support Specialist, provides project management and EMR management for both sites. She is continually seeking new technology and software to improve the efficiency, safety and quality of patient care delivery.

“We recognize that the functionality of our EMR has a tremendous impact on our practice,” says Sandra. “We make every effort to use technology that integrates directly with the EMR including EMR Mobile, PrescribeIT, MedDialog, Ontario Laboratory Information Services (OLIS) and Ocean patient engagement tools from CognisantMD.”

Patient engagement tools ensure accuracy and save time for everyone.

In 2014, CognisantMD launched its first Ocean product – patient tablets for the waiting room. Ocean tablets allow the patient to complete in-take forms, update their contact information, and provide a detailed history – all of which is automatically updated in the EMR.

Recognizing the value of the tablets to engage patients, ensure accuracy and save time, Sandra immediately brought them to the TWFHT clinics. In particular, she appreciates the flexibility of the tablets to support internal processes and make changes in the moment.

“The team decided on the most important screening questions for our patients. Based on each patient’s responses, we are able to present further appropriate screening questions. For example, if a patient identifies as a smoker and is over age 40 –  that patient is then screened for COPD. That information is automatically populated into the patient’s chart in the EMR, where it is accessible to all members of the care team.

Ocean tablets were just the beginning of a long, symbiotic relationship. As CognisantMD introduces new products, Sandra adds them to the clinics’ EMR. “Next, we added the self-check-in kiosks to our waiting rooms. Our front desk team was reluctant to use them at first, but now they recognize that the kiosks give them more time for other tasks.”

“We also use appointment reminders, the direct email feature, and surveys to get insights into the patient experience.”

The next product to be implemented is Ocean’s online appointment booking feature, which will enable patients to make their own appointments from any device –smartphone, tablet or a computer.

EMR functionality is ever-evolving. What will tomorrow bring?

Developers are continually looking for new ways to digitally connect patients, providers and specialists – and to expand the functionality of the EMR. What will the future bring to the EMR toolbox? Sandra has a few thoughts on the enhancements she would like to see.

“We could really use a wayfinder or a traffic manager that integrates with PS Suite. It would enable us to communicate with our patients after they check in. We would let the patient know when their practitioner is ready and to which room the patient needs to go,” she says.

The team would like other methods of communication outside of instant messaging.  “For example, physicians frequently have an in-the-moment need for a nurse. The only way to communicate this need is by physically finding a nurse or sending an instant message,” says Sandra.

She also likes the idea of integrating call software for improved tracking and information with regards to incoming calls, and for solutions to help meet mandated workplace safety requirements such as documenting behaviour risks, and de-escalation and mitigation strategies.

As EMR platforms evolve and new innovations are made available, one thing is clear. Teams like the Toronto Western Family Health Team will continue to rely on their EMR as the foundation to connect with patients, improve access to care, and enhance the healthcare experience.

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