Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Designing Clinical Templates for the EMR

This is a guest post from Aditya Patkar, Marketing Director at Plus91.

The working of a clinic can be divided into two parts. The administrative portion deals with the business part of a medical practice , such as accounting, insurance, billing , and inventory management. The scale and complexity will depend on the size of the clinic, and is much simpler for single physician clinics, as compared to group practices, for example. The other part is the clinical aspect , where the data captured is clinical in nature. Reports can be created using both these types of data.

Traditionally, clinics have focussed only on the administrative uses of medical software, using primarily the appointment and billing modules to help schedule patients and collect payments. The ability of the computer to improve the clinical care of the patient has never been explored properly in India so far.

Why is it so challenging to develop software which a doctor will find clinically useful ? This is because doctors are not able to write their own software – and most software programmers don’t have enough domain expertise in medicine to be able to understand a doctor’s thought processes or a clinic’s work flow.

How hard can it be to convert the doctor’s paper form into an eletronic template ? This can be quite a challenge for many reasons ! For one reasons, there is little standardisation in clinical record keeping. Each doctor loves to develop and design his own medical forms. Doctors take pride in their clinical skills, and each of them does things in their own idiosyncratic fashion. Trying to provide this kind of customisation is very difficult for a programmer, because it means spending a lot of time understanding the doctor’s needs, and then implementing them in the program. Not only is this expensive, it’s also very time consuming, because doctors are often too busy to spare the time needed to sit down with the programmer. Even worse, many doctors are not articulate enough to explain to the programmer exactly what it is they want the program to do. This is because they have often not analysed their own work flows and clinical thought processes, and are quite hazy about these. While they are good at doing what they do, they often are not analytic enough to be able to describe this in writing. Thus, while they are very good at finding faults with the program, they are often not articulate enough to be able to provide solutions ! This often ends up causing a lot of frustration for both doctor and programmer !
This is why we have developed a clever model which provides prefilled generic templates; and allows the doctor to customise these to suit his own needs, so that he does not need to call on us for making any changes he many need !

A doctor who needs an EMR should understand the following basic rules, so that it’s easy for us to convert his paper forms into electronic templates painlessly.

1. How many forms he uses ( for example, an orthopedic surgeon may have a special form for each joint)

2. Whether this form will need to be modified for followup visits

3. Because electronic templates are much more flexible than paper forms, they can be designed much more cleverly. A good doctor will help the computer programmer to design easy to use templates. Thus, those parts of the form which are used most often should be brought to the top; while those which are not essential can be relegated to the bottom.

4. Elecronic forms can be “intelligent”, so make use of this. For example, if the answer to : Swelling Present ? is: No, then no further fields related to this question will be displayed. However, if it is Yes, then additional fields reqeusting more information about the swelling will be shown.

5. Remember your question flow when designing the template . This will help you to get used to it quicker and will allow you to pay attention to your patient even while you are capturing data . A good computer program will follow your process, allowing you to become more productive.

6. Finalise your templates and stop tweaking and modifying them all the time – this just wastes time. Some doctors keep on changing their templates, and I still haven’t been able to install their program for them !

7. Unlike a paper form, which only allows you to enter information in a linear sequential format, electronic forms have lots of clever options, such as drop down menus. Not only do these minimise your writing, they also ensure that you remember to collect all the information you need from the patient !

Plus91 has a whole range of templates , individually designed for each specialty, using inputs from its panel of doctors. Your best option would be to start with this; and then change it, depending upon your personal preferences. Plus91 technology is flexible, and allows you to make these changes for yourself ! Of course, we can also do this customisation for you, if you’d prefer us doing so.

At Plus91 , we focus on improving both your practise management and clinical workflow processes in an integrated manner. This means that all the data collected, whether it be in the administrative section or the clinical templates , is captured in the same seamless workflow, cutting down time and effort.

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