Using Technology to Help Foster the Coveted Physician-Patient Relationship

By Kenneth L. Gwinn, MD, FACS, of HARMONY Center for Surgery of the Ears, Nose and Throat
Twitter: @modmed

Much in life is based on relationships. That includes the coveted physician-patient relationship where the patient trusts their healthcare professional and the healthcare professional should treat each patient like they’re the only one. With the hustle and bustle of daily life and the abundance of technology, it’s important to adapt your practice and adjust to the times to meet and exceed patient expectations.

At HARMONY Center for Surgery of the Ears, Nose and Throat, we’ve embraced technology and have found what we believe is the right balance to positively improve the patient experience while improving our practice efficiency.

My EHR Journey
Our current ENT electronic health records (EHR) system is lucky number five. I decided that switching to an EHR from paper charts was the right decision to make years before it was a necessity to switch. The impetus to change boiled down to improving efficiency. As my practice grew, riffling through paper charts started taking increasingly more time. Not to mention, I would have to jot down notes while I was with the patient, which took my attention away from them, and I would then have to dictate my findings at the end of the day. As the practice grew, using paper to chart was very inefficient and thus, I made the call to transition to an EHR system. It did take some time to find the right one for us, and that’s what we found with our current platform.

Focusing Even More on My Patients
One of the major patient experience perks in using my ENT EHR is that I can remain much more engaged with the patient during the exam. I do have a scribe who documents on the iPad during the visit and can keep tabs on every symptom and concern the patient shares. No matter what anyone says, it’s a near-impossible feat to examine, take notes, document and genuinely listen to your patients’ concerns. Patients pick up on it if you’re trying to multitask and are less likely to tell you important information. You need to pay attention to them and not get distracted by the technology.

Using Tech to Improve Communication

Patient Reminders
Patient no-shows are no good, so automated patient reminders have been fantastic for our reception staff. They provide us with the flexibility to notify patients by email, text and voice call, which has resulted in very few no-shows. Perhaps even more relevant in recent times has been the ability to message our patients about our new procedures due to COVID-19, such as temperature checks and intake processes.

Patient Portals
Another tech tool that is proving more valuable during this pandemic is the use of patient portals. This enables patient access to their health records where they can review and update information prior to their visit so they spend less time in the office.

To help mitigate exposure to the virus, patients are becoming increasingly leery of sitting in a waiting room, so a patient portal can reduce the in-office paperwork and empower patients to fill out intake forms at their convenience from home. Collecting this information ahead of their visit also reduces time spent in the office, so in theory my staff should be able to bring them right back to the exam room for their appointment. This can help prevent delays in the schedule which we all know causes a domino effect that can prove detrimental to the patient experience and frustrate staff.

Enabling Patient Self Scheduling
In the increasingly digital world we all live in, patients want autonomy when it comes to scheduling their own appointments. The beauty of online scheduling is that patients can browse times that would work best for their schedule. The added convenience saves time for both patients and staff alike. We’re excited to add this new option into our tech tool kit and foresee our patients frequently using it, which will help alleviate some of the burden of scheduling from my staff.

The Takeaway: Embrace Tech and Change
The goal for both myself and my staff is to make patients feel as though they are part of our practice and that it’s not simply a transactional experience where they pay a copay, have an impersonal visit and leave. Now more than ever, practices need to swiftly adapt and make decisions, even sometimes difficult and expensive ones, that can make their practice better and not just coast along.

By incorporating technology and a personal touch, we like to think that we’ve been able to meet and exceed our patients’ needs and expectations. They are our number one priority and want them to feel that they are part of our practice at HARMONY.