It will not come as a surprise to my fellow clinicians that the pandemic has spurred a boom in digital health and health technology innovation, evidenced by the increasing sales pitches we receive for these new solutions. Our practice has experienced both successful and unsuccessful technology partnerships, and we have developed a framework for evaluating the solutions that work best for us. At the core of this framework is limiting the obstructions between providers and patients. There are already so many factors interrupting our work with patients: computer screens, pharmacies, insurance companies, the list goes on. As a primary care provider, my central focus will always be on my connection to the people in my care. Whatever technology partnerships our practice pursues have to enhance that relationship, not detract from it.
So how should practices make that determination? What are the factors to consider? First, technology partners need to be not only useful but usable. The last thing any physician wants is to implement a new tool or product that ends up creating more work for them. It is important to evaluate the learning curve and what you will have to ask of your staff and fellow clinicians to onboard. We only have so many hours in the day, and extensive training for optional tools gets pushed to the backburner. Similarly, any installation of hardware can not only be a delay in implementing the tool, but a disruption to our work. We are looking for partnerships that we can start on day one.
In our practice of family physicians, value is a huge factor in determining partnerships. Primary care does not have the margin of other specialties, and we have to be cost-effective in all our decisions. Overhead costs like expensive, new equipment are detractors for us. When we evaluate technology, we are looking to add value by reducing our physicians’ stress or alleviating their administrative workload to see more patients. Any tech investment we make must have the potential to help improve our revenue and can seamlessly fit into our doctors’ workflow, particularly for solutions at the point of care.
Lastly, consider seeking a second opinion. Though we always have our ears to the ground for better ways to enhance our patient relationships, we do not often actively seek out solutions. There simply is not enough time in the day to put in the research and discovery. We use referrals from trusted groups like the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) or other practices to get a sense of the leading technology companies. We have found that if professionals like us are endorsing a solution, it’s likely because they’ve actually seen the benefits in their own medical practice. Checking to see if specialty associations offer any kind of technology partner program is a great place to start in exploring solutions.
For example, one of my partners was referred to a voice-enabled digital clinical assistant that integrates with electronic health records (EHR) at a medical conference. We saw that the company had been working with the AAFP, a second recommendation from a trusted source that supported our vetting process. This technology partner met the criteria I have outlined, requiring no additional hardware and little to no onboarding. It has reduced an obtrusive barrier — typing into the EHR — during patient interactions without adding any additional obstacles. Its value has been proven through time saved and a reduction in claims denied. It has cut down the time spent in patient notes from about 20 minutes to three for at least one of my colleagues.
Though I have only evaluated technology partners for a primary care practice, these themes and considerations are applicable across specialties. Not every solution is a fit for every practice, but we all should identify our specific goals for technology solutions that reflect our needs and values. As physicians, we all just want to do our job and care for patients. Cumbersome reporting requirements increasingly get in the way of that, so my colleagues and I continue to look for solutions that get us back to the practice of medicine.
Jarrett Dodd is a family physician.
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