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Making technology work for your practice and your patients

Technology is not only changing the way gastroenterologists provide care, but also the way they manage and promote their practices and communicate with patients.

On Tuesday, June 5, at DDW® 2018, a panel of tech experts discussed some the challenges created and opportunities afforded by technology. The AGA Institute Practice Management and Economics Committee-sponsored symposium was titled Technology Opportunities in Gastroenterology Practice: How to Make Technology Work for You.

Simon Mathews, MD
Simon Mathews, MD

Simon Mathews, MD, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and assistant director of the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore, MD, began the symposium with a discussion of high-level trends in health care technology and the implications for clinical practice.

“On a macro level, a major driver of health care technology has to do with increasing costs, particularly due to waste and inefficiency in the health care system,” Dr. Mathews said. “Existing companies in the health care technology landscape are making acquisitions to get larger with the goal of driving costs down in the supply chain and expanding their customer bases.”

Another major change that’s taking place rather quickly is the entrance of tech giants into the health care space, he added.

“Major tech companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon, for example, are all playing increasingly relevant roles in health care, particularly by leveraging their experience and capabilities with data analytics and redefining the customer experience,” Dr. Mathews said. “Despite the rush of companies and the billions of dollars that are being invested, the reality is there’s still very little evidence in the literature to support most of their digital health solutions and interventions.”

Deborah Fisher, MD, MHS, AGAF
Deborah Fisher, MD, MHS, AGAF

Deborah Fisher, MD, MHS, AGAF, associate professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine and associate director for gastroenterology research at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, Durham, NC, followed with recommendations for how institutions and individual providers can use web technology and social media to brand their practices and attract patients.

“Before you decide to launch a website or get on Twitter, the most important thing is to define what you’re trying to accomplish,” Dr. Fisher said. “Your objectives are going to drive your strategy, which will be different if you’re attracting patients directly or attracting them through referrals.”

It’s also important to understand that online strategies are likely different for organizational versus personal or practice branding, she said.

“If you look at the Duke Health website, for example, the goal is to drive patient appointments and to help patients find providers and available treatments,” Dr. Fisher said. “The Duke GI website, on the other hand, is more about enhancing the reputation of the division, the program and our faculty. It’s important to define your objectives with the understanding that it doesn’t have to be about providing everything for everybody.”

Whatever the strategy or objective, she noted, it’s important to track and quantify whether the technology is providing the desired results. It can be something as simple and easily tracked as a dedicated phone number for appointments that is specific to the website.

Dr. Fisher also outlined common pitfalls to avoid when creating an online or social media presence, including unmoderated or unprofessional content, answering specific medical questions and sharing patient data without documented permission.

“If you have a Twitter account, you certainly don’t want to be talking about your patients, colleagues or workplace in negative way,” she said. “You cannot truly separate your personal life from your professional life online. If it’s posted, it’s accessible, and everyone is watching.”

Anantachai Panjamapirom, PhD
Anantachai Panjamapirom, PhD

In the final presentation of the symposium, Anantachai Panjamapirom, PhD, senior consultant and subject matter expert in the Quality Reporting Roundtable practice at The Advisory Board Company, Washington, D.C., discussed telehealth technology and other opportunities to enhance practice value.

“Telemedicine is one of those buzzwords we’ve heard for a long time now. However, it can mean different things to different people,” Dr. Panjamapirom said. “What distinguishes telehealth from other digital health technology is, first and foremost, it’s a communication tool to facilitate a meaningful interaction between patient and provider, or between two providers, with the goal of improving diagnoses, treatment and ongoing care management.”

When choosing a telehealth platform, he said, it’s important to remember that it’s a tool rather than a self-contained strategy, and to select a platform that patients and providers will actually use.

“Prioritize technologies that have high market penetration among consumers, such as smartphones or web-based platforms, and choose technologies that can be easily integrated into patient lifestyles and provider workflows,” Dr. Panjamapirom said. “The sweet spot for telehealth sits at the intersection of patients and providers.”

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