Feeling overwhelmed by information? In a highly technology-dependent world, information is the currency of our time. Before we had electronic mechanisms to share and deliver information, physicians were feeling overloaded in their practices. The continuous influx of paper reports, results, requests, and unsolicited publications — in addition to personal reading material — was overwhelming before we had the Internet. So, what can you do to manage the information overload and make more efficient use of your time?
Here are a number of tips and strategies:
- Email — Separate professional and personal communications and set your filters at appropriate levels. It is quite common to have more than one email address for work and personal use. In addition, the longer than you have had an email address, the more spam you are likely to receive. The effectiveness of spam filters varies significantly between different systems and there is nothing more frustrating than having to keep deleting spam in order to keep your inbox manageable. If you have a secure email address provided to you by your hospital or organization, you may have little flexibility in changing settings; however, for personal email, Gmail offers excellent spam filtering and the ability to import email directly from your other email addresses directly into your Gmail account, creating a single access point for email.
- What can you delegate to others and, in particular, your patients? This can be quite a scary concept for clinicians; however, there is a great deal of evidence that patients will appropriately use electronic tools to access lab results and other clinical information as well as manage communications with the practice electronically if there are clear rules and guidelines. If your EMR vendor offers a patient portal and you are ready to look at new ways to enhance patient interactions, spend some time exploring how you can integrate the portal into your practice. If you are skeptical, consider how travel has changed. When was the last time you booked travel through an agent vs. a web-based service such as Expedia? In addition, think of the value you place on being able to check-in online and select your seat in advance of arriving at the airport. Upon arrival at the airport, you are asked to print your own boarding pass and baggage tags and place your own bag on the conveyor belt. Despite offloading all of this work to the traveller, we appreciate the control and find the process more efficient. The same concepts can easily be applied to tools such as self-serve patient portals.
- What can your EMR do for you that was previously a manual process? One of the great strengths of computers is their ability to manage repetitive tasks, for example, alerts, reminders, and recall lists. As practices begin to use EMRs more extensively for chronic disease management, this capability becomes critical in order to ensure that patients are receiving comprehensive care and are not falling through the cracks. In a paper-based practice, it is extremely difficult to “query” your paper charts to identify patients who are not receiving regular follow-up. Using an EMR, this is easy to do and electronic queries and reports can be set to run on a regularly scheduled basis. The ability to monitor patient management is a strength of EMRs that you should be using.
- Manage your online tools and social media carefully. Do you have a practice website or another form of social media presence such as a Blog? If you do have a medical practice website, make sure that you check it from time to time to ensure it is accurate. Once created, it is easy to forget about your website and it is not uncommon to find that, years later, it has never been updated, colleagues or staff have come and gone, and old irrelevant content is still available online. The Internet has become the primary mechanism to access information. Your website is your online presence and could be providing misinformation or outdated guidance to your patients if not kept regularly updated.
If you have additional time and information management tips, please add your feedback by clicking on the “Comments” link below.