There are many key players integral to the patient experience. One specific triad of relationships that significantly affects the patient experience is the relationship between labs, practices, and electronic health records (EHRs).
While more than half of all doctors have adopted EHRs to improve workflow and enhance patient care, most orders for diagnostic tests are still made outside of the EHR, and many healthcare groups do not fully realize the benefits of connecting to multiple labs through the EHR. Connecting practices to all labs and radiology services with which they regularly work provides three significant benefits: better patient care, improved workflow, and easy access to data.
Better patient care
Physicians rely on the EHR to simplify their day and allow them to focus on providing quality care for the patient they are seeing at the moment. The ability to order lab, diagnostic, and radiology tests through the EHR at the time of the patient exam ensures the tests are ordered accurately and any required information from the patient can be collected in person rather than requiring later follow up.
At the same time, an EHR that is connected to multiple labs and radiology centers and has access to their specific rules can generate information the provider needs to ensure a clean and complete order that will return results to the right patient chart. Automatically generated patient instructions for test preparation provide the educational information to properly prepare the patient for the test and avoid the need for a repeat test.
Once the result is received, it is critical that the physician be able to communicate the result quickly and accurately to the patient. Unfortunately, the second most cited complaint about physicians in a recent Consumer Reports study was slow reporting of test results to the patient. Medical groups can address that concern by establishing lab connections that can send lab results to the patient electronically when they arrive. Mobile access to the information enables physicians to retrieve results and speak with patients from any location thereby improving communications between physician and patient.
Automating the process of applying routing rules and generating guidelines for completion of the order reduces the upfront staff time required to prepare the patient for a future test or draw blood for a panel of tests. Different insurance companies often require specific labs to be used and each lab often requires different information be made available about the patient before the test can be ordered. By having these rules available and enabled electronically, there is a reduction in the number of orders submitted to the wrong lab or orders being submitted without sufficient patient information, ensuring accuracy in running the test and reporting the results.
Accurate orders also reduce the number of unsolicited results received by the practice. Errors in spelling of name, date of birth, and other areas delay filing of the results in the patient’s chart and require staff time to resolve.
From the patient’s perspective, less time waiting in the office for staff to provide lab locations and preparation instructions, and having results easily accessible for review, translates into a less stressful experience.
Easy access to data
With patient-level data essential for identification of trends and development of best practices for population health management, the EHR fills a critical role by providing access to test results that document efficacy of treatment. Connection to multiple labs in a way that normalizes codes used by each lab to match codes used by the provider’s EHR enables physicians to see the complete picture of a patient’s response to treatment in one record. This holistic view of a single patient or a specific population leads to better informed treatment decisions and creation of population health strategies.
While there are significant benefits to automating communications between medical practices and labs, it is important to understand an EHR system’s capabilities to communicate with labs outside the practice. A few key questions to ask include:
• Does the EHR have its own result codes? Does it support industry standards such as LOINC?
• Does the EHR vendor provide result mapping services to normalize codes from multiple labs to fit the EHR requirements? How are result code maps maintained and updated?
• Does the physician have to select a lab before placing an order or does the EHR automatically route the order to the correct lab?
• Is medical necessity checked when the physician places the order to identify potential out-of-pocket costs for the patient?
• Does the EHR’s lab communication feature improve staff workflow by eliminating manual tasks?
• Will a cloud-based intermediary provide the enhanced functions to address a lack of functions within an existing EHR?
There is no doubt that EHRs and the ability to automate lab orders and results improve the patient experience and the quality of care. Healthcare organizations that optimize the EHR’s capability to communicate with multiple labs not only realize valuable efficiencies and enhance patient care but also improve the overall patient experience.
Pat Wolfram is the Director of EMR and Lab Integration for Liaison Technologies, which provides healthcare organizations with innovative solutions to complex integration and data management needs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.