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Efficiency: When Doctors and Patients Agree

June 29, 2011
by Mark Hagland
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A new survey finds doctors and their patients on common ground when it comes to online communications

When I speak publicly, I often draw contrasts between some of the consumer “givens” in other industries and those in healthcare. As I’ve often said, who would do their personal banking these days with a bank that didn’t have ATMs for cash withdrawals, or that didn’t have online banking services? And who would fly on an airline anymore if they had to fill out paper forms when they got to the gate? Yet, metaphorically speaking, that is precisely what most consumers of healthcare services are still being asked to do. When I have a doctor visit with my own personal physician, I’m asked to fill out paper forms every single time I arrive at his office. At the same time, my physician is only now on the verge of implementing an EMR, even though he works in two practices in two different parts of the city where I live; so until now, all my records with him have been paper-based, and his office is very phone- and fax-driven.

But as we all know, the world is changing quickly, and consumers are becoming increasingly impatient with their healthcare providers, as they look around at hospital and physician office care and wonder more and more why their interactions with their own physicians aren’t more time-efficient. Conveniently, some physicians are also beginning to move in the right direction as well.
A recently published survey by the Mountain View, Calif.-based Intuit Inc. confirms that change is on the way. Among other things, the survey of 556 physician practices nationwide, and of 113 patient portal users, found that:

> 95 percent of doctors want their patients to fill out medical and registration forms online before their appointments; and 81 percent of patients want to do so.
> Nearly half of physician practice leaders report that their practices usually run 30-60 minutes behind schedule.
> Among physicians, 72 percent say that patients complain about having to repeatedly fill out the same paper forms, and more than 50 percent say that their patients complain about spending too much time in the waiting room.
> Meanwhile, 67 percent of providers say they plan to offer a patient portal, communication, or EHR solution in the next 12 months to provide patients with access to health records and clinical information, appointment scheduling, and prescription refills.

As pretty much everyone working in healthcare these days knows, physicians in practice are feeling more and more time-pressed, as they attempt to see as many patients as possible, at a time when reimbursement is becoming more challenging, and more and more demands are being made on their time. So it seems like a no-brainer that online pre-visit patient registration would make sense, as would the provision of patient portals and other communication channels that could cut down on the constant phone tag and pass-it-along verbal messaging that constantly takes place in physician offices nationwide.

Making physicians more efficient will not only improve the patient experience, it will also become absolutely essential to physician and physician office success in the coming years. But isn’t it nice to think that there are relatively modest IT and communications enhancements doctors and their staffs can make that will make everyone happy? I’d thought you’d agree.