Consider the typical provider-patient relationship: Patient visits the doctor. Doctor conducts examination, provides diagnosis, advice, and a plan for treating the illness. The doctor might even provide advice for better overall health. Patient leaves the office, where he or she may or may not follow through on the doctor’s suggestions.
From here, health care is largely in the hands of the patient. In fact, by some estimates, the majority of health care takes place outside of a provider’s office as patients take medication, make lifestyle changes, and follow other physician instructions. So why is it, then, that the responsibility for the quality and value of health care falls squarely on the physician? And why is it that the outcomes of health care are only measured in terms of the doctors’ role in delivery of care?
Many physicians have questioned the current trend of measuring the value of health care using metrics that actually have a detrimental effect on the quality of care. In fact, many physicians note that patient priorities aren’t even a part of most “quality improvement” metrics. Case in point? Patient-provider relationships. Survey after survey has indicated that patients consider a good working relationship with their doctor as a key determinant of quality, yet those relationships generally aren’t considered when measuring the overall quality of care.
Still, because doctors know that building relationships with patients is so important, and because a stronger patient-provider relationship increases the likelihood of a more proactive approach to health care — and better outcomes — most are looking for ways to improve relationships with patients. One of the key tools in that effort is technology, especially when working with patients receiving home health care services.
How EHRs Affect Relationships
To say that the shift toward EHRs has been met with mixed responses is putting it mildly. Many providers do not feel that EHRs are helping them deliver better care but are in fact impeding their ability to interact with patients. Instead of having a conversation and maintaining eye contact, providers enter information into a computer, and spend more time on administrative tasks than they would like.
While providers are looking for ways to overcome these challenges (some have even hired scribes to manage the EHRs during patient visits so they can focus on providing care), there are some doctors who argue that the right software can actually improve their relationships with patients. They argue that certain tools like advanced home health care software actually give patients the opportunity to be greater participants in their care, and builds a partnership rather than the typical linear model of care delivery. For example, home health software may allow patients to:
– Access their personal health records, to see the notes from their most recent visits, test results, and review treatment plans.
– Gain access to information and guidance regarding their illness or recovery. Home health providers can access educational tools, information sheets, and more right from a device in the patient’s home. Patients can then use this information when working with their doctors to ask questions and develop plans of care.
– Provide real-time updates to their physicians regarding their disease management. When the physician has the most up-to-date information, he or she can more effectively manage appointments.
– Communicate more effectively with all providers. Software with a secure messaging portal, for example, allows for the patient and authorized family members to communicate directly with home health providers and physicians to ensure that everyone is “in the loop” and care is delivered appropriately.
Technology as a Bridge
One of the drawbacks to using software as a tool in building relationships is that it has the potential to turn into the only relationship that a patient has with a provider. Providers are cautioned to view such tools as a bridge to better communication. EHRs and patient management software should be viewed as a shared tool, one that opens up lines of communication that may have otherwise been impossible.
Software designed to improve the management of home health care can effectively improve the communication between patients and all providers, from doctors all the way through home health assistants. That communication forms the foundation of a two-way relationship in which the patient is equipped to take more control over his or her health. While the typical measurement metrics may not yet take the relationship between patient and provider into account when measuring quality, when everyone learns to embrace technology and use it to their advantage, there’s no doubt that outcomes will improve.
Kristen Hamlin is an adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets.