'You can turn that time into better patient engagement.'

Minutes saved can add up to big ROI

By Eric Wicklund
06:08 AM
Pediatricians figuring ROI by minutes saved.

Healthcare providers often have difficulty defining the ROI of an mHealth application. Is it saving lives or money, or both?

How about minutes? In the case of a Washington-based network of pediatricians who are now using a mobile app to connect with their EHR, those few minutes saved in each encounter can add up over time, and mean a whole lot more than money saved. Just ask the parents of a sick or newborn child what a few minutes mean to them.

Pediatric Associates, a seven-clinic health network based in Bellevue, Wash., recently began using the Greenway PrimeMOBILE app for Windows 8, enabling the network's 85 pediatricians to quickly access their PrimeSUITE EHR while seeing patients in one of the clinics or making rounds at the nearby children's hospital. In addition, the network's medical assistants are using the app on Microsoft Surface Pro 2 tablets to quickly document vital signs.

To Brock Morris, the network's CIO, the benefits are numerous. Physicians making their rounds at the hospital can now access information and take notes at the bedside, rather than rushing around the hospital trying to find an open computer station, then asking for log-in information. In the case of newborns, they can get an EHR started on the spot, rather than later.

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"It's a minute saved here and there," said Morris. "Maybe 10 minutes with sick patients, 20 minutes with well-check appointments, adding up to 30 minutes a day. There's very real potential there. You can turn that time into better patient engagement."

Not only that, he said, but an increasingly tech-savvy population expects that its physicians are keeping up with the trends.

"If we're not using technology, then they don't see us as a quality organization," he added.

"In a couple of years, tablets will be the norm in healthcare," said Johnathan Samples, Greenway's executive vice president of innovation. "You need a native mobile solution for that, not one that interrupts a physician's workflow and creates any obstacles, because then they won't use it."

That's the dilemma facing many an EMR vendor looking to go mobile – finding a means of fitting into the doctor's routine without any fuss or drama. And it's especially pertinent to pediatricians, who are dealing with harried parents and small patients who really don’t care how long it takes to access medical records.

"The goal of any app is to really give providers access to the full functionality of an EMR anytime, anywhere," said Staples. Ideally, that occurs in the exam room, he said, but it could also mean the office, the home, the clinic, the OR, the ER, even the Little League game or concert.

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Staples said Greenway enlisted Pediatric Associates to help design the app, and brought in both Microsoft and Intel to collaborate as well.

'They had many suggestions," he said of the pediatricians. "What we found out rather quickly is that they really wanted something that would quickly get them back to their home base."

Morris said healthcare providers sometimes think an app or similar mHealth tool will solve all their problems, when it should instead be focused on one specific problem. They have to identify the project before adopting the tool. In the case of Pediatric Associates, he said, the goal was to improve physician workflows. They targeted workflows, and worked on reducing wasted minutes.

Staples said Greenway will continue to add features to its apps, from location-based services to more clinical uses and integration with devices (Morris, for one, would like to see dictation added to the list of features). That should open up the market as well to home-based care services and other healthcare providers who work outside the hospital setting.

"There's a huge market out there that's looking for something portable," he said.

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To Morris, the minutes saved each day have a value beyond money. Physicians can see more patients, or spend more time on difficult cases, or they can take a little time off and recharge.

Then there are the unforeseen benefits. One physician, he said, was treating an autistic child and found that the child liked the movie "Cars."

That turned into a gateway for communication between physician and child, enabling the physician to entertain her patient and get the information she needed for the EHR.

"It took those walls down," she said. "There's some tangibles and some intangibles to that."