Best practices for physicians in adopting compliant and efficient data sharing

The Covid-19 pandemic has shed light on massive technological inefficiencies amongst established medical professional practices, healthcare institutions and independent physicians. While the technology to fix a broken data-sharing system already exists, consistent investment isn’t there as it should be.

To stay relevant and survive in the industry, independent physicians must invest in compliant, data-sharing technologies to improve their practices. There are several reasons why independent physicians may be slower to adopt new technologies, including cost and regulations. Perceived lack of incentives may discourage both smaller and larger practices from investing in this component of their business. However, these technological investments ultimately feed the patient experience, revenue cycle, revenue capture and overall efficiencies that support a value-based health care model.

Seeing risk without reward
Cost and time management are cited as major obstacles to innovation, but technology adoption is an essential piece of a practice’s infrastructure. Smaller practices may believe these investments are too costly to implement. However, the reality is the downstream return will materially benefit practices in both revenue and reputation. Practices should revisit their technology portfolios regularly to determine the then-current pricing and whether developing in-house expertise in a solution is feasible. Practices should consider patient feedback, both in person and in public forums, before dismissing technological opportunities.

A recent survey of nearly 800 independent practitioners in the U.S. found a high correlation between administrative time demands and physician burnout. Yet, only 64% of providers are currently using electronic health records. That represents both newer practices that haven’t previously opted to implement an EHR platform and established practices mired in a paper-based record system. Another 2019 study revealed that private practice physicians are unlikely to invest in electronic records.

As practices consider how best to navigate the environment of value-based and accountable care, some will consider affiliations with other providers and health systems. These affiliations may broaden a practice’s reputation and reach but put additional pressure on limited resources to navigate health system policies, procedures and IT requirements.

Regulations are a driving factor when independent physicians adopt new data-sharing practices, such as the interoperability rule scheduled to take effect in 2021. While the transition does present financial and administrative challenges, improved access to patient medical records will allow independent physicians to compete as the healthcare market continues its move closer to consumerism. With improved transparency, independent providers can take control and intentionally drive better efficiencies and quality outcomes while also creating a superior patient experience.

However, there is a real risk of ignoring or deferring technology implementation. For example, while texting solutions are a convenient way for staff to communicate within a practice or, say, in an operating room, the fact remains many providers have not yet dedicated the resources to address the privacy requirements that come with electronically communicating protected health information. Therefore, the lack of secure solutions continues to prove problematic for large and small providers alike.

Compliance in data-sharing and new technology investment also benefits the patient in a tangible, patient-centered approach. Reaching and connecting with patients where they are, leveraging portal solutions and keeping customers engaged between appointments benefits both the patient and the healthcare team. Independent practitioners receive a marked competitive advantage, remaining top of mind, reinforcing patient care orders and providing support between encounters, better managing patient care between annual visits and acute episodes, and solidifying the provider-patient relationship. Practitioners give themselves a distinct advantage, supporting their bid for continued independence and further establishing their presence in the market.

Best practices
Medical professionals should start by assessing their practice, such as updating policies, reviewing potential and upcoming regulations and policy changes, and prioritizing their long-term business and overall growth strategies.

Additional best practices include:

  • Engaging with peers at a national level: Connect with colleagues to gauge their methods, priorities and successes. Physicians should constantly engage and learn from other professionals and impartially assess how they can incorporate insights learned from other practices into their own environment.
  • Reading trends and news: In an industry that is continually changing and innovating, physicians must stay current on trends and, most importantly, to seek information from outlets that are well-received and balanced. Educating themselves on what is on the horizon will help independent physicians position their practice, improve their office efficiencies, inform technologies and, ultimately, their relationship with patients.
  • Dedicating expertise to data privacy and compliance: There are many ways to ensure independent practices stay on top of data privacy and compliance concerns. This includes hiring a specialist or training someone within the practice, dedicating resources readily available to the physician. Having an individual within the office dedicated to data-sharing oversight limits exposure for non-compliance with billing, regulatory and privacy issues. In addition, physicians should continuously be on the lookout for available information exchanges to stay informed at the state and regional level.

Choose the path of investment for long-term success
The current healthcare environment requires physicians to think about how they can manage their practices most efficiently. In today’s virtual world, data-sharing plays a crucial role in determining this efficiency. Physicians need to consider all the elements that go into this system—from billing, documentation, patient results and constant information exchange. By choosing not to invest, practitioners will be irrelevant, siloed from other professionals and unable to compete in the market with other peers or larger systems. By making responsible and strategic technology investments, practitioners will have access to robust data, be in a position to analyze and interpret trends and outcomes, determine whether they wish to participate in value-based networks, and provide health care informatics that ultimately will be the insights they need to be successful in a value-based health care environment.

Photo: shylendrahoode, Getty Images

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