The federal government required the meaningful use (MU) of EMR close to a decade ago, with addendums over the years. One of the definitions of MU is using certified technology to engage patients and family in their health care.
So, have ophthalmic practices that employ EMR systems achieved this? Ophthalmic Professional put this question to the allied health professionals interviewed for this article.
Here, they discuss the specific EMR features that have enabled their practices to achieve patient engagement,as well as practice loyalty.
An EMR’s patient portal creates patient engagement and practice loyalty, because it allows for the secure delivery of education geared specifically to patients, says Shannon Blair, operations manager at VisionFirst Eye Care in Louisville, KY.
“Upon returning home from an appointment at which my 22-year-old son was diagnosed with a retinal hemorrhage, he received an email from the practice alerting him to check his patient portal,” she remembers. “Contained within was a personal note of thanks from one of our optometrists and an array of links about my son’s diagnosis. He was grateful to have received this information.”
In addition to the ability to provide customized patient education, patient portals also create patient engagement and practice loyalty via allowing for 24/7 access to contact their physicians electronically (e.g. answering such questions as, “Should I be worried about this?”), enter crucial changes regarding their medical history (e.g. newly discovered drug allergies), ask for and receive notifications about medication refills, acquire an appointment summary and print an itemized statement, says Jennifer Stambook, corporate controller at Empire Eye and Laser Center, in Barkersfield, CA.
“In our practice, we’ve found that patients place a lot of value, in particular, on being able to ask a question about their ocular health at 10 p.m. vs. waiting to call the next day,” she explains. “Also, our doctors and support staff are judicious about answering them in a timely fashion, so this aspect of the EMR works well to bind patients to the practice.”
Hayley Boling, MBA, COE, and CEO of Boling Vision Center in Elkhart, IN, adds that in addition to the several points of patient convenience the patient portal of the practice’s EMR system has provided, she appreciates its ability to integrate with other patient engagement software, which has allowed for convenient and timely communication. (See “Third-party connectivity,” right.)
Keeping in mind that patient communication technology is constantly evolving, EMR vendors may secure various partnerships with third-party software vendors to provide additional features, which may maintain patient engagement and loyalty with practices.
For example, the EMR VisionFirst Eye Care uses is connected to a third-party software that enables the convenience of online ordering of contact lenses. The software “also reminds our patients via text and email when it is time to order their contact lenses online through our website,” Ms. Blair says.
The EMR used at Empire Eye and Laser Center is connects to an additional software to provide automatic text messages. These can be utilized for appointment reminders, cancellation alerts if, for example, the doctor is ill, or to inform interested patients of same-day openings in the schedule.
“Recently, a bunch of our doctors had a flight delay, so they weren’t going to be able to see certain patients,” explains Sara LeVan, clinical manager at Empire Eye and Laser Center. “With the day-of messaging feature used through the add-on connected to our EMR, we were able to send one message to all those patients letting them know their doctors would be unable to see them due to the flight issue. Several of the practice’s patients travel from 45 minutes away, so they were so appreciative of that text message.”
Online appointment making
Online appointment making through the practice’s EMR system creates patient engagement with their ocular health, because it increases patient appointments by virtue of its convenience, says Teri Deabler, CMPE, COE, practice administrator at Eye Physicians of Austin, in Texas.
“About 55% of the patients at our practice are over the age of 65, and we have our fair share of younger patients as well who see our doctors for primary eye care, and I can tell you that patients of all ages use the online appointment-making feature,” she says.
Ms. Deabler says patients appreciate that the practice allows appointments to be made on their time vs. during practice hours.
An EMR can also garner patient engagement through deployment of automated feedback survey emails sent to patients post-appointment. The reason: It focuses them on whether their experience met with their expectations regarding their care, says Ms. Stambook.
She adds that asking patients for feedback about their visits — and making changes based on that feedback — creates practice loyalty, because it lets them know the practice is genuinely invested in their care.
Ms. Blair points out that an EMR’s automated patient recall system, which provides emails, text messages and direct mail cards, creates patient engagement by reminding the patient it’s time for a comprehensive ocular health exam.
Additionally, she says the practice’s EMR enables the practice to measure its efforts and reconfigure, if needed, to increase patient compliance to appointments, which leads to practice loyalty.
“Several years ago, after measuring the results of the one-year recall card, we discovered that many patients didn’t respond because they get super busy with life and often forget to schedule their exams,” she explains. “But, we didn’t want them to wait until two years to schedule a comprehensive eye health exam, so we implemented a 14-month reminder card that outlined the fact that ocular health is more than vision, and the response was outstanding!”
Robert Jasa, director of Healthcare Informatics at Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute, a multiple-location practice in Washington, says an EMR’s ability to produce a video of the patient’s cataract surgery, via the surgeon’s perspective, has created patient engagement because they are able to see the inner workings of their eyes vs. being told about them: seeing is believing.
The practice’s EMR system contains the video recording equipment and burns the DVD for the patient, “who can then leave with it after their surgery,” says Mr. Jasa.
“I think patients become bound to practices that provide the latest technology,” he adds.
By virtue of an EMR’s patient database, office staff can craft custom lists of patients, based on demographics and ocular issues, and create patient engagement in their ocular health by securely messaging patients about new services or treatments that may be of specific interest, Ms. Deabler says. For example, if a practice has decided to provide in-office treatment for dry eye disease (DED), secure messages about this service can be sent to DED patients who appreciate receiving the information and can then contact the practice about the service.
Because EMR systems are updated regularly, it is recommended interested parties contact vendors directly to learn of the latest patient engagement offerings.
- Epic Systems
- Eye Care Leaders
- GE Healthcare
- Modernizing Medicine
If you look in the reception rooms of most eye-care practices, you’ll see patients of all generations “looking at their smartphones or laptops,” says Ms. Blair.
“As a result, they expect the doctors they see to be on the cutting edge of technology too, and this includes the way in which information is shared and received,” Ms. Blair says. “EMR delivers this.” OP