Five Key Ways to Optimize EHRs for Better Patient Health

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Through field-tested methods, experienced providers have developed proven approaches to improving patient health by leveraging electronic health record (EHR) data and optimizing use of the patient portal. Health Services Advisory Group (HSAG)—the Quality Innovation Network-Quality Improvement Organization (QIN-QIO) for Arizona, California, Florida, Ohio, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—has worked alongside some of these veteran digital leaders and identified five key ways medical providers can optimize the EHR for improved patient outcomes:

1. Identifying at-risk and risk-stratified populations—The first step in addressing patients most in need of intervention and/or those experiencing health disparities involves determining who those patients are. The EHR data can be accessed to find such populations rapidly (e.g., determining which patients have an elevated HbA1c level and the date last seen in the office). The provider can build a patient registry of identified patients for better care coordination and proactive intervention.

2. Using clinical decision support—By using clinical decision support in combination with EHR data, providers can ensure safer care by eliminating drug-to-drug and drug-allergy interactions. Likewise, medical reminders sent through the patient portal serve to eliminate gaps in care or gaps for needed prevention care services.

3. Scheduling medical appointments—Providers can save office staff member time by encouraging patients to set up medical visits and request prescription refills through the patient portal. If configured, the system also can issue reminders to patients prior to scheduled appointments for added confirmation.

4. Retrieving lab results—Patients often are interested in obtaining lab results but frequently dread the waiting period. Providing access to normal lab results through the patient portal allows patients to get answers they are looking for as soon as the results become available. This eliminates any administrative oversights in failing to communicate results in a timely fashion. Note that abnormal test results cannot be posted, so the portal needs to remind patients that a phone call to a medical staff member will be needed.

5. Maintaining a patient education record—Providers can use the EHR to identify patient-specific educational resources and share them with patients, if appropriate. By providing patient-centered education through the portal, the provider has an ongoing record of what has been provided and what is required to support patients in their health self-management and ongoing treatment.

“We know that providers rely on the wisdom of the medical community to set best practices, avoid common mistakes, and save time,” said HSAG Vice President, Health Information Technology, Kimberly Harris-Salamone, PhD, MPA. “The same applies to EHR use and is crucial to getting things right the first time; that’s why this top five list is valuable.”

A few words of caution from HSAG: Too much data can sometimes overwhelm medical staff members, leaving them bewildered. If that occurs, providers can rely on the pre-EHR work flow for guidance. As a best practice, providers should involve mid-level medical workers to plan out the care continuum, adjusting the work flow to reflect the ideal care continuum that best fits their physician practice.