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EHRs and patient communication


The foundation of the provider-patient relationship is communication. Electronic health records (EHRs) can be an integral piece of that relationship-building effort, when used appropriately and effectively. EHRs and patient communication are tied together in many positive ways.

Your main goal for your new independent practice is to provide quality care for improved patient outcomes. Your EHR solution can help increase patient satisfaction by contributing to your efforts to communicate with your patients while offering better healthcare.

Some of the many benefits of connecting EHRs and patient communication include:

  • Reducing wait times for appointments, including improved appointment scheduling
  • Reducing turnaround time in responding to patient inquiries about care instructions, follow-up guidelines, and billing questions
  • Encouraging patients to take ownership of their own healthcare by providing access to their medical records and a convenient portal encourages two-way communication.

While many providers and patients are concerned that the physician may spend too much time on their computer screens during an office visit, the EHR can improve communication efforts between the provider and the patient, when used with some planning and forethought. When executed appropriately, the use of the EHR can benefit clinical staff and patients as a valuable tool in care improvement.

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Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, Wei Wei Lee, MD, MPH, emphasized the connection between EHRs and patient communication at the American College of Physicians 2018 Internal Medicine Meeting. Dr. Lee stated, “We know when the EHR is not integrated well into the visit, the computer can be seen as a distraction from the patient-doctor relationship, and we also know that there are ways of using the computer as a tool to enhance communication and improve the way we use it for patient education.”

Dr. Lee and her team conducted research into how the use of computers affected patients’ perceptions of their doctors. She noted, “We found that overall patients regarded EHRs as a really positive presence in the exam room. Patients liked that their primary care doctors could see notes from other team members. They knew that really improved their care.”

Their research led to the development of a set of recommended best practices to use EHRs to enhance patient-centered care and communication. Appropriately, they formed the acronym HUMAN LEVEL with their recommendations:

  • Honor the first minute of the patient encounter: It sets the tone for the rest of the visit, by talking to the patient and not using EHRs or any other form of technology.
  • Use the “triangle of trust”: Create a triangle configuration in the room that allows the physician and patient to both view the EHR and the physician to address the patient.
  • Maximize patient interaction: Allow time by encouraging the patient to ask questions if they don’t understand something.
  • Acquaint yourself with the patient’s chart: Review notes and other pertinent information before entering the exam room.
  • Nix the screen: When a patient starts discussing a sensitive or emotional topic, turn away from the EHR screen and look only at the patient.
  • Let the patient look on while entering information into the EHR: Doing so not only helps build trust with the patient but also ensures the accuracy of the information because the patient is there to confirm it.
  • Eye contact: Maintain it as much as possible throughout the visit.
  • Value the computer: Talk about the benefits of the EHR and make it a tool for engaging patients by jointly reviewing data such as lab results and specialists’ reports. “If you display negative emotion towards EHR that can leave a lasting impression that isn’t good,” Wei said.
  • Explain what you’re doing: Be open about everything you’re doing with the EHR in the patient’s presence.
  • Log off: Signing off of the patient’s chart while the patient is present helps reassure them that their information remains private and won’t be viewed by anyone else.

In addition, encouraging the patient to communicate via the patient portal when they have questions or want to clarify information can vastly improve their comfort level with the quality of communication and the quality of care you and your team can provide them. 

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