EHRs can have their share of pain points for physician practices, with many remaining skeptical about if the advantages outweigh the cost and administrative strain.
Esteban N Berberian, MD, an internist in Channelview, Texas, is a proponent of EHRs. He has been able to use his EHR patient portal as a risk management tool to improve patient outcomes—including being able to diagnose diseases more efficiently than in past years and reduce medical errors to deliver better patient care.
He notes the best way to lower risk and improve outcomes is to help patients take greater ownership of their own paths to health and the portal helps empower patients with the knowledge they need to achieve better outcomes.
“A patient portal makes that easier because it enables communication on their terms,” Berberian says. “At any time of day or night, our patients can send us messages, look at visit notes, or check labs and medication lists. We can just as easily notify them about upcoming appointments, recommended immunizations, or community alerts.”
Berberian’s EHR lets him target specific groups of patients with automatic messaging campaigns. These might include specific disease management or medication adherence tips, immunization reminders or just general health education.
“At the push of a button, we can deliver useful information to hundreds of patients via portal, text, and even automated voice call,” Berberian says. “Without an EHR, most practices just don’t have the resources for that kind of proactive, patient-focused communication.”
Berberian says many of his patients face barriers to care such as poverty and other issues, ofen called “social determinants of health.” Paying for medication, for example, becomes difficult if someone has to choose between healthcare, food and other basic needs. He tries to overcome the risks these barriers create by helping patients find assistance to address them.
“Even so, patient compliance remains another risk management challenge. Many of our patients disregard, misplace, or get confused about orders for diagnostic tests, annual wellness visits, diet, exercise, and medications,” he says. “We work hard to provide them with all the information they need during each visit and through the portal, so they can be the best advocates for their own personal health.”
It’s his belief that an EHR gives physicians both the capabilities and the efficiencies needed to provide the highest quality of care to a larger quantity of patients.
“It also allows us to ensure every single patient is given the same opportunity to improve their health outcome,” Berberian says.
For example, the practice’s EHR helps identify, track, and manage patients with chronic conditions, as well as follow up on any preventative services ordered. Plus, it offers care reminders for patients based on their diagnosis, age, gender, and the medications they take.
“Overall, the EHR makes it easier to track activities and address gaps in care, which is increasingly important from a reimbursement perspective, too, now that most insurers tie payment to quality metrics,” Berberian says.
He suggests that even small practices should invest in a quality EHR and avoid simply selecting the cheapest option. His practice tried that once and that system hindered his productivity for years.
“The difference between that system and the well-known EHR we invested in last year has been night and day,” Berberian says. “But whatever system you choose, be sure to use all the bells and whistles. Explore what your system can do, and don’t be afraid to ask for support or tutorials from your vendor. Most systems have features that decrease your workload while increasing patient care. We now have the features, speed, and accuracy to spend less time charting and more time listening to patients and caring for them directly.”