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

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

  1. I was visiting with a pair of physicians this week about Healthcare IT and how it does and doesn’t work. Their chief complaint was that these IT solutions are designed by people who have no clinical experience. Specifically, no experience in working with patients. I think the biggest problem is not for those folks to “unlearn” bad habits, but in solutions being designed with no understanding of the habits in the first place.

  2. That’s very accurate about the systems being designed solely around the doctors. I would expect one reason for this is that doctors- especially in small practices- are the ones with the purchasing power, so the products are designed and marketed around them.

  3. I agree with the systems being designed around doctors and I do think that is a positive thing. Were things fail is in the planning/implementation stages when all the practices do is focus on the doctor. Many times when I am working with a practice they have certified/licensed staff that are nothing more then escorts for the patient grabbing very minimal information. In my opinion the more you focus on the support staff in the beginning as well as device integration the more efficient things would be. It would lessen the burden on the provider, increase documentation, as well as provide a knowledgeable resource, ie support staff, for the doctor to turn to with questions. Support staff needs to be utilized to there full certified/licensed potential in order for that to work and doctors in smaller practices are resitant to this. 

    To many times the doctor takes the lead in small practices and he is the busiest of them all so who does the staff turn to with questions? i am a firm believer that if the right product was selected its succcess and failure revolve around planning and the way they go about implementing it…

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