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To make physicians more productive, focus on IT and tools for their supporting staff first

Posted Dec 21 2011 8:36am

Productivity loss and workflow disruptions are commonplace as our industry gets on the Meaningful Use bandwagon and is starting to adopt EHR systems at a slightly more rapid pace than in previous years (things aren’t really as rosy as many think, but the pace is picking up). The reason we have productivity loss is that we focus changing the behaviors of our most expensive resources too early in our automation journeys – we go after doctors first.

My experience, and some basic math, shows that if you want a physician to be more productive you first make sure their supporting staff have the tools they need to reduce the physician’s burdens. Only after you’ve optimized those around a physician do you then go after improving the physician’s productivity.

According to research done by GE, you need (on average) about 5 supporting resources per physician to help manage patient records and a bit more to support patient care. What if we focused on building software and systems for optimizing the work of the 5 resources around the doctor first? What if we offered more capabilities for patients, with proper verification and validation by a professional through simple tools, to self-manage their data directly in EHRs? Not just through portals, but real collaborative care management tools.

Physicians are highly trained, which means they have years of things to “unlearn” if you change their workflows and they are (generally speaking) well paid which means if you any mistakes and disruption in their workflows is far more expensive than for supporting staff. Of course, the opposite is also true: if you get the automation right, the return on the investment is certainly worth it; the problem is, while ROI might be high, the risk of loss is also high.

This advice may seem obvious, but the architecture, design, user experience, and implementation of existing health IT apps don’t always heed it. I’m sure we all see, over and over again, that many apps are being written to increase documentation and data entry requirements by doctors – instead of using system integration, medical device connectivity, and other simple technologies like worklist management to reduce the workload.

As I mentioned above, productivity loss and workflow disruptions are commonplace with EHR implementations – drop me a note below about how you think vendors should change their products to make things better.

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