Electronic Health Records

Adoption & Implementation News

Making Health IT Lead Patient Engagement Improvements

By Vera Gruessner

- Improving the quality of patient care and increasing patient engagement are key areas that healthcare providers are focused on today. Through the utilization of new health IT tools, many medical professionals are seeing improvements in patient care processes throughout their practices.

Physicians’ Alliance, Ltd. (PAL) is one organization that has put their efforts into advancing patient care by adopting a leading analytics platform from Geneia, a vendor of population health and analytics solutions for the healthcare industry.  PAL runs 22 practices throughout Pennsylvania and this analytics platform may lead to lowering medical costs and improving the quality of care for more than 500,000 patients, according to a company press release.

Victoria Martell, Quality Initiatives Coordinator at PAL, spoke with EHRIntelligence.com about some of their efforts toward improving patient care and the benefits of the new analytics platform called Theon. The organization has only implemented the technology within the last week and it may take more time to garner the exact advantages the analytics system will bring.

“I can tell from what little exposure I’ve had to it is that it’s definitely a powerful tool,” Martell said. “I’m very hopeful that it will provide us with a deeper dive into the information we’ll need to offer better care or identify areas of costs and utilization that can help us create better care management programs for our patients.”

The analytics platform may even “save the community and the patient [costs] in the long run.” Another Geneia client found that the platform offers information that can assist in lowering prescription costs and targeting patients that have high medical spending but have not seen their primary care provider in the last year.

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According to Martell, analytics software and other health IT tools can help in “identifying patients that have gaps in their care such as quality measures, cancer screenings, adult immunizations, and patients with chronic diseases who haven’t had tests that monitor the diseases.”

“It will help us identify patients who might not have had those tests completed,” Martell explained. “In turn, we can reach out to them to ensure they are able to obtain the care that they need so we can better manage their conditions. This will also help prevent and identify diseases early on, so it will be more treatable.”

When it comes to using these tools for clinical analysis, Martell believes that they will improve patient health outcomes at PAL. The way this will be achieved is by identifying patients with gaps in their care and working on managing disease to prevent more serious or fatal outcomes.

“[These tools can help us by] identifying patients who have gaps in care especially with disease management,” Martell said. “If we’re able to identify patients who might not be seeing primary care providers or specialists regularly enough to help manage their chronic diseases, we can come up with a care plan strategy and a care team that leads to ultimately better care in the long run.”

Patient engagement and quality care improvements are also significant goals at PAL and Martell spoke about the processes and health IT tools needed to enhance the patient experience.

“Patient engagement is new and previously the patient would only sit and listen to the provider. Now technology allows for more availability of patients to reach out to providers rather than just a phone call. It is slowly coming around,” Martell mentioned. “We had a struggle early on with our patient portal. We struggled with having patients wanting to utilize the patient portal. Over time, they’ve seen the benefits of it and use it a lot now.”

“The Physicians Alliance is also a Level 3 Patient-Centered Medical Home. Obtaining this recognition, we had to demonstrate the ability to encourage patient engagement,” Martell explained. “Through our care teams and patient education that we have available, patients seem to be more apt to converse with us and ask questions. The providers have more time to spend with patients because we were able to shift things that the providers didn’t necessarily need to do [and transfer it over to] qualified nurses. This allowed the providers to have the time to sit and work with the patient.”

Victoria Martell also spoke on the benefits of EHR systems for improving patient care. When looking at the provider side of things, EHR technology can help enhance tracking of patient needs and helps improve efficiencies across a hospital or physician practice. The EHR system at PAL is able to flag reminders for clinical staff on any upcoming tests or immunizations patients may need.

When it comes to the new analytics platform, Martell said: “The system can integrate with our scheduling system and can compare what is needed for a patient and provide a ‘report card’ for that patient so that information can be used for an upcoming visit. It will help the nurse and provider team work with the patients to ensure that needed screenings are completed.”

Martell also discussed how Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements have affected patient engagement efforts. PAL has reported Stage 2 Meaningful Use at their practices and Martell believes these requirements have increased patient engagement.

“One of the core elements of reporting [Stage 2 Meaningful Use] is patient engagement through the use of the patient portal. Prior to us striving to achieve Stage 2, our portal usage was not meeting the thresholds needed. We had to evaluate our workflows and how we presented portals to patients,” Martell stated. “Informing patients that they don’t need to sit on hold on the phone [by using the portal instead] really had increased patient awareness and we now see portal usage has substantially increased since July of 2014.”

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