Ask any physician and they will tell you the success of a medical practice is dependent on creating a highly efficient, consistent, and cost-effective way to evaluate and treat patients. Dr. Scott Boden, professor of orthopedic surgery and director of the Emory Orthopedics & Spine Center, is a case in point. Recently, Boden worked closely with the National Spine Network (NSN), a nonprofit integrated spine registry and clinical trial network, to help develop SpineChart, a software tool that will run on mobile devices. The goal of the new solution is to improve the efficiency of NSN’s patient intake process and support “paperless” clinical trials.
NSN wanted to find a solution because its previous system required patients to fill out a paper intake form that was 7 to 10 pages long. Once patients were in an exam room, the doctor or physician assistant would take a medical history, perform an exam, and later dictate office visit notes and the patient’s treatment plan using a medical transcription service.
Today, the process is quite different. A new or returning patient checks in at the front desk and is handed a lightweight Fujitsu Stylistic Tablet PC. Using the pen input device, the patient answers simple, multiple-choice questions covering their chief complaint, history of present illness, and medical history. The questions appear on-screen in a large font and pop up one at a time to make the questionnaire less overwhelming. For returning patients, some questions relate to answers given during previous visits. The data is then sent over the clinic’s wireless network to the system’s file server, housed behind the firewall and periodically submitted over the Internet to NSN’s national database. A patient report prints out immediately in the doctor’s work area signaling that the patient is ready to be seen.
Dr. Boden estimates that by eliminating the need for medical transcription, each doctor is saving $15,000 to $30,000 annually. Though time savings are harder for Dr. Boden to quantify, he says he is definitely more efficient now that activities like generating office notes and physician’s referral letters are automated. With additional time to focus on patient care and better information in-hand when entering the exam room, Dr. Boden says patient visits are more productive and in-depth. “As in all businesses, the costs of running a medical practice continue to escalate. Every physician has to look constantly for opportunities to reduce costs. If you can find a way to reduce costs while simultaneously improving patient care and providing data on patient outcomes, you have a powerful combination of benefits,” concludes Dr. Boden.