EMR Workflow Continues to Evolve

As we approach the midpoint of 2012 our practice will complete 7 years of electronic medical records.  Just like a musical instrument, we will never have EMR fully mastered, but our skills and wisdom continue to grow slowly with time.  Over the past several weeks one lesson is becoming clear.

To this point I have equally supported 2 types of workflow for the exam room.  The first involves the physician working solo in the exam room with a laptop or tablet computer.  The medical assistant remains at the nurses’ station to support workflow.  In our financially strained environment we can’t afford to add another medical assistant to put in the exam room with the physician.   In this model the EMR enhances the physican’s documentation and workflow control capabilities and eliminates the need for an assistant in the exam room.

In the second workflow the doc never touches the computer.  Instead a medical assistant or nurse accompanies the doc to the exam room and documents on a laptop.  After capturing the results of the physician interview and the exam findings, the assistant documents workflow in the EMR.   The doc uses the workflow engine to initiate and control workflow.  It works well but carries the expense of an additional assistant, some $40k per year including benefits.

Over the past year I have been blessed with 2 exceptionally talented RNs who are both outstanding clinicians and savvy computer users.  The first of them will be going out on maternity leave soon, so the second was hired.  For several weeks they have both been working and training together so I have had the (expensive) luxury of having an extra assistant to bring to the exam room.  Thanks to them I have come to realize there is no reason for me to operate the workflow engine.  For most patients the RN can listen to my conversation with the patient and initiate the treatment workflow via the workflow engine.

By allowing the RN / assistant to operate the workflow engine we eliminate the need to keep an assistant at the nurses station and this eliminate the additional expense.

We have also replaced our web portal vendor after several frustrating, unsuccessful years.  I am very excited about the Intuit product.  Although I have been wrong many times about similar technologies in the past I remain hopeful that that the new portal will be attractive to patients.  If that happens we will finally be able to automate several workflows and get a measurable return on investment on the portal itself.

Combining a successful web portal with a sophisticated workflow engine operated by staff holds the promise of taking our practice to the “next level” with our EMR.  This will allow us to automate data input, workflow management and patient communication.  This is very important to physicians.  As a group we docs see EMR as something we constantly put resources into but rarely get anything back out.   This would be a big step past that barrier.