In the health information technology industry, this much is a given: Computers improve patient care. Yet how exactly each hospital, clinic and medical professionals can use technology to improve clinical interactions, advance treatments and ultimately re-prioritize the patient-caregiver relationship is a different story.
Computers can never replace the attention and empathy that makes better patient visits. Nor do they need to. Instead, technology in health care liberates practitioners from the redundancies and process inefficiencies considered “business as usual” in most facilities, allowing them to recenter those human interactions.
The results? More successful health outcomes for real, complex patients — plus at reduced costs. Here’s what medical professionals stand to gain once they embrace today’s dynamic computer technology available in health care IT.
1. Improved Patient Visits and Experiences
More than a third of Americans read online reviews before visiting a hospital or clinic. In particular, they value past visitor stories, inpatient testimonies and a hospital’s overall ranking, even over information like facility service lines, doctor bios and payment and billing criteria.
What’s more, positive patient experiences correlate with better patient outcomes, including lower readmission rates. Nearly 9 in 10 people say a hospital’s reputation is on their mind when selecting caregivers. If their first experience was positive, individuals are more likely to return to a hospital every time they have a health issue.
These numbers reveal a growing trend among today’s health care consumers: the desire to be actively informed about the health care services they receive, and to be aware of what to expect once they get it. Just as computers provide the public a platform for more agency, computers offer a patient-centered competitive advantage for hospitals, too — namely when medical operating systems sync with electronic medical records (EMRs) for a range of streamlined operations, allowing facilities to expediently attend to individual treatments without sacrificing quality.
How can hospitals use technology and computers to improve patient care?
- Quicker access to medical records: Hospital computers can search their EMRs using special search query shortcuts. In seconds, caregivers have access to a patient’s entire history, including medications, immunizations, allergies, critical or emergency care visits and past inpatient rehabilitation treatments.
- More fluid medical records transmission and receipt: Currently, the majority of health care software and EMRs are proprietary designs, meaning they can’t readily communicate or exchange data with one another the same way you can use Outlook to email someone with a Gmail account. If patients visit a new facility or see a new provider, they want assurance that their records will be accessible.
- Faster patient identification procedures: Point-of-care computing applications allow simplified confirmation steps with customizable authentication options, including biometric integration for faster patient IDing.
- Option for a patient narrative: Voice-to-text technology and similar transcription programs let patients relay their symptoms, pain levels and medical histories. These first-person transcriptions add a human, personalized touch to augment the more technical doctors’ notes within EMRs.
- Build patient portals connect to the EHR: Patients can schedule appointments, receive appointment reminders, view test results, make medication refill requests and even directly message their providers through secure online portals. Some patient portals also include links to medically accredited websites and journals for patients to independently learn about conditions, healthy living tips and other health information.
- Improved overall clinical interactions: System-integrated portable health care tablets with touchscreen technology make it easier to exchange health information with patients, particularly while in the exam room or at their bedside. Doctors and nurses can more quickly find and input data during point-of-care check-ins, then focus on what they really want to — helpful, healing human interactions.
2. Better Communication Between Caregivers and All Other Patient-Supporting Parties
Clear, consistent and engaged communication between patients and providers is the foundation of a robust patient-caregiver relationship. Yet the average primary care doctor spends only half their shift face-to-face interacting with patients. The other half? That gets consumed by what industry professionals colloquially dub “desktop medicine” — typing patient interview notes, submitting patient progress updates, logging physical examination summaries and more into the EMR system on legacy computers, rather than actually treating patients.
This caregiver imbalance leads to doctor fatigue and patient dissatisfaction, as well as other medical facility administrators being saddled with system backlogs. Thirty-eight percent of providers spend between 10 and 19 hours on administrative paperwork a week, while another 32 percent average 20-plus hours. That’s in addition to actual patient interfacing. Further research shows that this provider time crunch permits only about 45 percent of physicians to review in-depth medical information with patients, such as treatment costs and lifestyle choices.
Social computing technologies fill the gap. More streamlined EMR software, as well as intuitive computer hardware stationed at points of care and on medical carts, assures caregivers rebalance the ratio in favor of communicating with patients — rather than just documenting those communications. Computer applications and hardware allow patients to independently access and stay informed about their medical treatments, in addition to alleviating the constant tug of war administrators and caregivers feel between paperwork and patient interfacing. These computer applications also stand to enhance data accuracy and cut down on manual paperwork error rates.
Hospitals can consider a range of modern health care communication technology to improve the patient-caregiver relationship, including the following.
- Remote reports and monitoring: Contemporary vitals-monitoring devices, otherwise known as “telemonitors,” allow recently discharged patients to remotely send blood pressure and blood glucose levels, oxygen saturation levels and even electrocardiograph results from their devices and cell phones straight to a hospital’s system for their primary physician to review.
- Patient tablet, mobile phone, or computer treatment applications: Patients can download mobile apps or use bedside tablets to study treatment information, access and review test results and deepen their knowledge on their conditions. These pieces of health care IT relieve some of the explanatory burdens from a doctor’s or nurse’s shoulders, allowing patients to directly access their medication reports, procedure or treatment updates, plus read complementary resources.
- Simple digital-system medication checks: Caregivers should be able to view a patient’s entire medication history at the click of a mouse on an all-in-one medical-grade computer, not spend valuable minutes digging through file layers and opening new programs to get the information they need.
- Quicker bedside charting: Bedside medical-grade computers and tablets allow nurses and doctors to collect patient vital data and chart progress notes, then expediently upload them straight into the hospital or clinic’s server, thus reducing redundant paperwork as well as administrative input times.
- Readily available treatment plan documentation: In addition to tablets or mobile phone apps where patients can review medications and medical education resources, bedside hardware allows doctors and patients to walk through treatments using personalized visual or graphic aids. Such aids enhance a patient’s understanding of their care, strengthening that trust so essential to a healthy patient-caregiver relationship. What’s more, some bedside patient portals can even include access to doctor’s notes included in their medical records for patients to peruse, furthering treatment transparency.
- Off-site physician and family member connection: Contemporary information access lets patients send messages or updates to remote primary care physicians, as well as appropriate family and friends.
- Patient telecommunications affordances: Bedside technology lets patients pass the time with free digital entertainment such as internet access, videos on demand and hands-free, voice-over-internet calling features. Through computer-delivered entertainment and coomunications, patients won’t feel so cut off during their stays.
3. Smarter, More Effective Hospitals
Smartphones, smart cars, smart watches, smart security systems, smart alarm clocks — so many devices are “smart” these days, the word goes in one ear and out the other. One place where the word still retains its meaning, though, is the medical field, specifically in smart hospital asset management applications.
Health care access technology permits greater communication between hospital departments and personnel. Hospitals can improve clinical interactions, trim process inefficiencies and keep better track of the equipment, tools and paperwork fueling their operations.
Today’s medical facilities have many examples of asset management software and computer applications simplifying office work.
- Provider-to-provider dashboards: Online dashboards allow doctors to directly communicate with one another over clinical updates. Each provider in a facility receives a personal dashboard containing their list of primary patients and patient statuses. Doctors receive instant alerts if a patient’s status changes, plus can reach out to other doctors, nurses or specialists attending to patients within the dashboard system.
- Pinpointed equipment tracking: RFID “smart label” and barcode technology can track and locate medical machines and devices.
- Streamlined instrument management: Similar to RFID-enabled equipment tracking, these setups allow administrators to more readily manage medical instruments across locations like surgical service floors, operating rooms or cath labs. Digitized instrument-management systems set schedules and send alerts ensuring full compliance of proper medical device sanitation and recycling.
- Controlled medication dispensing and disposal: Computers installed on medication carts can provide a mobile repository for tracking patient medication schedules.
- Improved hospital discharging rates and procedures: “Virtual nurse agent” applications walk patients through check-in or discharge paperwork, reducing error rates and helping the patient understand out-of-hospital care next steps. These applications are particularly helpful for urgent or emergency rooms during peak hours, freeing up nurses and hospital administrative staff from routinely monitoring such procedures.
4. Reduces Health Care Professionals’ Mental Load
American Medical Association surveys reveal over 40 percent of physicians report caregiver fatigue and burnout. Depending on physician specialization, those rates can be higher. Forty-eight percent of all critical care doctors and neurologists reported significant, prolonged career stress, followed by 47 percent of family medical practitioners, 47 percent of obstetricians and gynecologists and 46 percent of internal medicine specialists.
At first glance, computers in health care may not seem like an intuitive solution. Yet the same AMA studies report today’s leading cause of physician burnout is repetitive bureaucratic tasks taking up too much of their workday. Over 50 percent of survey respondents felt saddled by cumbersome, outdated computer technology they must use to submit routine patient documents and information.
Facilities wishing to address practitioners’ mental burnout should take serious strides to update their computer infrastructure. Migrating from legacy software into contemporary EHR applications with more automated or integrated features would allow physicians the freedom to do the following.
- Submit paperwork sooner: A fully integrated system with computers and tablets stationed at points of care can dramatically reduce the time it takes for a medical professional to transcribe, transfer, store and re-access essential patient files.
- Access to the newest research and best information in the field: More than 800,000 new articles get published in medical journals every year, discussing more than 6,000 drugs and 9,000 medical procedures. Computer programs can help nurses and physicians stay on the cutting edge of their field with the convenience of an in-house resource.
- Bolsters chronic care quality: Fully integrated, user-friendly health information technology is particularly beneficial for patients with chronic conditions who may see numerous specialists — and whose care constitutes over 75 percent of the nation’s current health care expenditures. Easier doctor-to-doctor communications boost continuity of care, cut back redundant procedures and paperwork and more readily identify patient problem areas and treatment patterns. Patients receive higher-quality care, physicians cut down their administrative workloads and both feel a strengthened patient-caregiver relationship.
Precautions and Best Practices for Health Care Professionals When Using Computers
Health care technology is a tool. Like any tool, wielding computers and software properly will help reap their full potential. These computer-system best practices help ensure better patient visits and more productive physician activity — a true win-win for all.
1. Beat the Checklist-Based Care Trap
Patients are more than the sum of their medical charts. Reliance on computer-generated patient interviews or standardized, chart-driven checkups turns the interaction into a grocery list, not a conversation with a highly unique and complex individual.
In fact, over-reliance on checkup scripts has led to the troubling trend of doctors forgetting even to ask someone the purpose of their visit. A recent study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found 64 percent of primary care doctors and 80 percent of specialists never asked the patient why they made the appointment — they merely read off a preprogrammed computer script and jumped to a prescription.
Try to include more personalized questions alongside routine ones when conversing with patients. Or, change the language of standardized patient interviews to be more warm and human. Just because you’re using a computer doesn’t mean you have to sound like one.
2. Maintain Consistent Software, Hardware Training
Health information technology is only as good as its users. Software and hardware will see more buy-in — and more results — with education sessions that allow for health care professionals to learn the new technology inside and out. It may seem like another regulatory burden at first. However, physicians and staff will soon understand a few hours of training now saves hundreds of hours of bureaucratic administrative headaches down the road.
3. Ensure Computers in Health Care Are Generationally Fluid
Many surveys indicate there’s a tech-literacy divide between younger and older health care professionals. Physicians who came of age around mobile devices, tablets and computer applications are likely to embrace these technologies at work, seeing them as an industry inevitability rather than a burden.
Intuitively designed, conveniently located technology and EHR systems mitigate generational tech divides. After all, user-friendly is user-friendly regardless of age. The more comfortable a physician is logging into an application or navigating around a computer’s operating system, the better the health outcomes that system bolsters.
Choose Datalux PCs to Improve Clinical Interactions and Support True Patient-Caregiver Relationships
At Datalux, we design our medical-grade, all-in-one computers to heal the process pains of those who heal the public. We understand health care professionals have too much at stake to get bogged down in administrative work — and didn’t spend all that time in medical or nursing school just to have a computer get the better of them.