One doctor’s tips on getting the most from your EMR.

When Dr. Sharon Domb, family physician and associate professor at the University of Toronto, started using electronic medical records (EMRs) in 2008, she was considered an early adopter. But the use of healthcare technology has increased dramatically since then, and today, she’s part of the 85% of primary care physicians in Canada who use an EMR.

In her practice, Dr. Domb uses CognisantMD‘s Ocean Tablets that integrate with EMR solutions, which allow patients to complete questionnaires in advance of their appointments and enable Dr. Domb to obtain email consent from her patients. She also stores information and guidelines on her personal devices using apps such as Evernote and Microsoft OneNote.

This holistic adoption of healthcare technology is what Dr. Domb expects to see more of in the future. As a teaching physician, she has a unique perspective on how students today are learning about technology as an integral part of their medical education. Healthcare technology will only continue to become a bigger part of physicians’ lives, and current and future generations can benefit from having a better grasp on EMRs and other advanced solutions.

Initial EMR adoption is only part of the story.

Many Canadian physicians originally made the switch to EMRs because of government initiatives: “In Ontario, a number of years ago, there were financial incentives to get an EMR,” recalls Dr. Domb. “[They] helped to get all but a small number of laggards onto the EMR.”

However, increasing EMR adoption among physicians is only part of the equation. Though the majority of primary care physicians and specialists now have or use an EMR in their practice, not everyone is using them to their fullest potential.

Dr. Domb likens using EMRs and other digital health tools to using a smartphone — the more time you spend learning about the tool, the more powerful it becomes. “When you get a new phone, maybe you get the basics on the first day. But then over the next weeks and months, you learn more details, and you keep learning more tricks about how to use it well,” she explains.

The breadth of all the functionalities and benefits of implementing new technologies are not always immediately obvious. For example, it’s a common concern that  may drop as physicians and staff learn how to use new technology. Like with any new tool, there is a learning curve, but according to Dr. Domb, the benefits of investing time to learn and master these technologies can lead to more efficiencies over time. “By keeping my charts up to date, I can very easily get a clear picture of what’s going on with my patients,” she says. “If anything, I feel like I’m more on top of things, so I think it really benefits patients from that end.”

Changing patient expectations are a concern as well. As new technologies are introduced, they may come to rely on faster responses and instant answers from healthcare professionals. “There’s an expectation of an immediate response,” says Dr. Domb. “People expect that you’re going to reply to their emails right away.”

The reality is that it takes time, money, and effort to fully integrate a new technology at a clinic or practice — and EMRs are only one piece of the puzzle. While they provide a foundation, other technologies on top of EMRs are also needed.

Getting organized: The outcomes are worth the work.

Those physicians who do take the time to learn and effectively use technology in their practice, like Dr. Domb, find that it’s well worth the effort. The biggest positives Dr. Domb has experienced include well-organized charts, easy-to-find information, and accurate medication lists that she can quickly share with other physicians — which helps to improve care continuity for patients.

Dr. Domb also enjoys being able to organize other information — not just patient health records — using technology. For example, she keeps notes on her iPad about new medical guidelines, and she keeps all information in the cloud so it’s easily accessible. “If I’m on call and need information, I can get it wherever I am and on whichever device I have,” she says. In addition, EMRs like PS Suite, Med Access, and Medesync have integrated functionalities that help to manage revenue and reduce lost billings.

EMRs and other tech tools make it easier to track every procedure and test. According to the 2018 Canadian Physician Survey, physicians use their EMRs to take patient notes, generate prescriptions, receive electronic warnings about interactions, and send referrals to other physicians. These tools also simplify provider-to-provider communication, appointment scheduling, and the transmission of referrals.

Technology in healthcare: Work smarter not harder.

Despite an increase in the adoption of technology, there is still work to do in learning how to effectively use EMRs and their add-on solutions in medical practices. As someone who has been using EMRs since 2008, Dr. Domb has seen many of the strengths — and challenges — of using healthtech.

In order to enhance and improve their use of EMRs and add-ons, Dr. Domb recommends that physicians work smarter, not harder by incorporating tools that are best suited to their individual practice. She also recommends that healthcare professionals invest time up front to learn the ins and outs of the unique stack of medical technology they choose to use.

“I certainly wouldn’t go back to using paper,” says Dr. Domb. “There’s a lot of ability within a given EMR, so really, the question is how well people use them. You can program it so that it actually works for you and helps you.”

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