How tech can help you grow your practice and connect with patients.

Considering 86% of Canadians have a smartphone and almost 100% of those under the age of 45 access the Internet every day, it’s clear that technology connects us both personally and professionally more than ever. However, the adoption of new technology in the healthcare industry to help with diagnosis, treatment, and care accessibility has been a longer, more complicated process — and for good reason. The choices of where and how to store patient data or how to communicate effectively between healthcare providers and patients can’t be taken lightly.

But the tides are changing. We have seen a shift towards greater technology usage in the past decade beyond mobile devices, with EMRs serving as the foundation in healthcare. The numbers are comforting with EMR penetration among primary care physicians now at 85%. At first, this growth was propelled largely by government funding and incentives. However, today, physicians are increasingly choosing to implement technology on their own accord.

Healthtech can benefit both physicians and patients

Technology growth in healthcare certainly isn’t limited to EMRs. In 2017, for example, 23% of physicians in the US reported using voice assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa at work. In that same year, according to a study of mobile technology use in US hospitals, 79% of respondents used tablets and 43% used smartphones in their practice to coordinate and provide patient care.

What’s more, increased tech use has led to greater satisfaction among users. According to the 2018 Canadian Physician Survey, satisfaction with EMRs increases as physicians use more of its features. Coupled with the right EMR add-ons, healthcare providers can further benefit across their practice.

But digital healthcare isn’t just for primary care physicians and other healthcare providers; patients are also a big part of the equation. Here are five modern healthcare challenges that technology is helping to solve, with a focus on improvements to continuity of care.

Challenge 1: Lost, damaged or hard to read prescriptions

According to a 2018 study by Canada Health Infoway, 14% of Canadians have lost or damaged a prescription at some point, and 17% of respondents — about 700,000 Canadians — did not fill their prescriptions as a result. This can be dangerous for patients, and inefficient for healthcare providers (and pharmacists who may struggle to decipher a doctor’s handwriting).

Solution: Electronic prescriptions integrated with the EMR

Physicians can now send electronic prescriptions to the pharmacy of a patient’s choice right from the EMR using add-ons like PrescribeITTM, offered by Canada Health Infoway. The service opens up lines of communication to facilitate medication adherence and ensure that conflicting medicines aren’t prescribed. When used with other digital tools such as Health Myself which offers a patient portal and cohort messaging, physicians can share warnings about drug interactions and other information with patients.

Challenge 2: Information is siloed between facilities and physicians

Thanks, in part, to legacy systems and privacy concerns, communication between healthcare facilities can be a challenge. This makes it difficult for different healthcare providers to collaborate and provide proper care for patients without shared information.

Solution: Digital tools to simplify provider-to-provider communications

The majority of primary care physicians and specialists — 84% and 89%, respectively — report having access to health information outside their main practice, which enables them to collaborate with other doctors and care providers without having to transport paperwork, including lab test results, diagnostic imaging results and hospital discharge information.

Services like EMR Mobile help clinicians stay connected to the practice in the office and on the go. The service enables physicians to access clinical information on a mobile device, view and process labs, take pictures of symptoms and upload them to the EMR for future reference. Meanwhile, MedDialog helps physicians exchange digital and eFax communications with other providers, such as referrals, consultation requests or patient results – right from the EMR. This saves time and optimizes communication streams.

Challenge 3: Patients no-show for appointments

Healthcare practices naturally must deal with no-shows. The University of Alberta Health Centre recorded 86 missed appointments (a rate of 8.14%) in May 2017. This issue is not only costly, it’s also inefficient and places a burden on physicians and patients alike.

Solution: E-booking and automated reminders can improve attendance rates

Online booking and digital patient reminder tools are widely available, offering patient convenience, fewer incoming calls for administrative staff and better clinic utilization rates. Customizable automated appointment reminders can be sent to patients via email, text or phone to remind them of upcoming appointments with sufficient notice and terms of rescheduling. Cancelled appointment slots can then be made available to other patients and easily booked through an online system. Collectively, these solutions can help reduce no-show rates.

Challenge 4: Patients can’t easily access their own health information

In provinces where patients can access their own medical records, it is cited that they are often more prepared for their appointments and more actively involved in managing their health. In fact, 94% of patients felt that having online access to lab results improved their knowledge of their health, 93% said they could have more informed discussions with their doctor, and 95% felt more confident taking care of their health.

Solution: Digital records empower patients to be hands-on in their care

Increased access to medical records and information can lead to better health outcomes and less non-critical doctor’s visits. While Personal Health Records (PHRs) are starting to come on board in Canada such as in Alberta, they are already providing benefits to those patients who do have access. For instance, 77% of patients felt they were more involved in their healthcare.

Challenge 5: In-clinic visits may not work for all patients

For patients, a trip to the doctor can often mean missed work, the need to hire child care and long wait times. And for the many Canadians living in remote areas or requiring care after-hours, these trips can be costly, inconvenient, and challenging — not to mention that such clinic visits can increase wait times for patients in more critical conditions.

Solution: Virtual care can reduce physical barriers to healthcare

A recent study by the Canadian Medical Association found that 70% of respondents would take advantage of virtual physician visits, and many believe that it would lead to more timely and convenient care. For patients with mobility barriers, in remote areas, without a family doctor or requiring after-hours care, virtual care and telehealth can be a good option. Virtual care services are now available in BC through TELUS Health’s partnership with Babylon. Through live video chats and instant messaging with healthcare providers, virtual care helps to ensure Canadians have access to quality care.

The future is connected

A 2017 study estimated that 90% of the world’s data had been generated in the past two years — a sum of roughly 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day. And that number will only continue to grow. Research from Intel predicts that, globally, we’ll see 200 billion smart devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2020.

With more and more data being generated, as well as rising patient expectations, doctors can increasingly look to technology as a means to manage data, navigate changes and provide continuity of care for patients. Using EMRs as their foundation, physicians and healthcare providers can integrate a personalized suite of tools to build a system that enables them to collaborate and communicate with fewer silos, provide more efficient and effective care, inform and empower patients, and continue to adapt and solve new challenges as they arise.

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