EHR Strategies for Small Providers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: on April 13, 2020

Medical practices large and small are under increased strain because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Providers are having to rely on software now more than ever, and the cornerstone of any practice is its electronic health record (EHR) system.

With that in mind, we decided to reach out to the vendors that make up our Frontrunners in the EMR/EHR software category as of March 2020 about how they are assisting medical practices during this crisis.


Trisha Flanagan

Director of Patient Safety at athenahealth

Kali Durgampudi

Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Greenway Health

Dr. Geeta Nayyar

Chief Medical Officer at Greenway Health

1. Which features in your EHR have made handling the outbreak more manageable for your users?

Trisha: “Because we offer a cloud-based solution, we can immediately update content assets for our customers with minimal disruptions. We leveraged this ability to immediately update for other necessary content including orders, order sets, encounter plans, and patient education materials. We’ve also been able to make off-cycle code updates by incorporating new and recommended interim COVID-19 SNOMED-CT, ICD-10, LOINC, and CPT codes.

We swiftly implemented several patient communication options to help our providers connect with their patients about everything from what to expect upon arrival in the office to canceling routine well visits.

We’re leveraging our interoperable orders and results data to create dashboards that inform the national effort to mitigate this pandemic. Leveraging our nationwide network, we can understand ordering and test result patterns that provide insight not only for our customers but also for the national effort to identify emerging outbreak hot spots. These real-time analytics are essential in identifying the areas of emerging high risk.”

Key takeaway: Vendors are working hard to ensure their providers are able to quickly connect with patients through their software in order to do everything from scheduling new appointments to canceling existing appointments. This has been helping to limit the amount of risk both doctors and patients face during this crisis.

Additionally, they’re providing the ability for practices to be the trusted, go-to source for information surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. With access to real-time data analytics, providers can become that trusted source that patients expect them to be.

2. What difficulties has your company experienced keeping up with the increased usage from the outbreak? And what changes have you made to overcome them?

Trisha: “We’ve leveraged our existing customer community and user groups to help us identify and implement recommendations that work. This includes everything from how to separate patients when you only have one waiting room to how to rapidly implement telehealth solutions.

We’ve facilitated connectivity between our telehealth partners and customers, so they’re better positioned to use these important tools in the moment of care.

We have ramped up calls for our Family Practice, Pediatrics, and Telehealth user groups to accommodate customer interest in a more frequent, live touchpoint with their community. Also, our Customer Success Managers are reaching out to provide guidance and remove any roadblocks to operational changes.”

Kali: “We quickly worked on templates and best practices and are continually sharing that information with [providers] across multiple channels.

We have also created a place for our customers to quickly share their best practices, information, and advice so they can help support each other.

We’ve worked with our partners to provide key functionalities such as telemedicine and chatbots to help our communities during this time.”

Key takeaway: Open and frequent communication is the key focus here. Vendors are working to improve communication and share best practices among peers by leveraging their communities of providers and patients to better implement features that will best serve all practices during this crisis.

3. Have you seen any disruptions to what you would consider normal best practices? If so, what are they, and how have those disruptions impacted your users?

Trisha: “We’re working hard to help eliminate or minimize disruptions for our customers. The biggest disruption we’re all dealing with is the upheaval of traditional healthcare delivery operations and resulting downstream impacts.”

Kali: “We’ve scheduled webinars and virtual meetings with customers in lieu of in-person visits.

We can take care of their billing and collections, and we can push out software upgrades and updates without taking up any more of their time.”

Key takeaway: Vendors are helping their providers out as much as possible to deal with the continual upheaval that our healthcare system is experiencing.

They’re allowing doctors to focus on what’s important during this crisis by helping their providers understand continually evolving policies such as the recent changes to telemedicine regulations that expanded Medicare coverage.

4. Are there any new best practices you’d advise your users to follow to better assist them during this health crisis?

Trisha: “We’re directing customers to our COVID-19 page in the Community which we update daily to centralize the promotion of new enhancements, workflow guidance, and links to the CDC’s guidelines page.

We also leveraged insights from across our customer base to create a best practices guide on pivoting to telemedicine.”

Geeta: “Follow the CDC guidelines and share the information with staff and patients. Communication is critical right now. There is so much bad information out there so it’s especially important for physicians to promote reputable sources to their patients.

Now is the time to embrace telehealth. It’s all about access to care right now. Providers should be doing everything they can to make sure their patients can access the right care at the right time. Telemedicine can do that. It allows providers to virtually connect with patients through a secure, HIPAA-compliant channel.

Every practice must have a business continuity plan, so they can maintain essential operations if staff is absent because of personal or family illness. They should consider things such as school closings and public transportation limitations because those can affect both staff and patients.

Cybersecurity should always be part of regular business operations and their continuity plan. Make sure the data is protected and backed up.

Patient engagement is key. Providers should use every tool they have to facilitate patient engagement so those patients learn how to take some responsibility for their own health. Make sure they’re getting care for their routine medical issues, whether it’s a dental checkup or a mammogram, so any underlying conditions don’t get away from them. The relationship between physician and patient is vital.”

Key takeaway: The first thing providers should be doing is staying up to date with CDC guidelines. Once again, communication is key here. Distributing updated guidelines to everyone in your practice is crucial.

Vendors recommend switching to some form of telemedicine software to help deal with the surge of appointment requests. Even if you’re not planning on embracing telehealth solutions in the long term, setting up a solution now will help limit the spread of COVID-19 and will still allow you to serve your patients.

5. What can vendors do to better assist their users during this crisis?

Trisha: “Vendors should be listening to their customers right now, particularly as they describe the most basic challenges they’re facing with patient flow, clinical documentation, and revenue cycle management.

Also, it’s important to minimize customer disruption right now and consider delaying any major workflow changes that don’t significantly improve upon COVID-19 related processes.”

Key takeaway: Let vendors know what they can do to better assist your practice during this crisis. Any amount of feedback will help them quickly implement and improve their workflows and processes to help you minimize disruptions between you and your patients.

Keep your EHR use efficient during the pandemic with these strategies

Vendors are here for you during this crisis. Helping providers best serve their patients is always mission number one, now more than ever.

Here are some of the best practices you can implement during the COVID-19 pandemic to help minimize disruptions, keep you and your patients as safe as possible, and ensure you are using your EHR to its fullest potential:

  • Provide feedback to vendors where possible and remain in contact with your vendor about what is and isn’t working with their EHR.
  • Stay up to date with CDC guidelines and communicate those with every member of your staff.
  • Implement telemedicine in the short term to help reduce points of physical contact and help with social distancing measures.

Software vendors are working to continually improve their software to help practices serve their patients more effectively and are doing what they can to make processes as smooth as possible.

We’re working hard here at Software Advice to ensure our readers are fully equipped to make important software decisions quickly. We’ve written several primers about telemedicine software. Take a look if you need to jump-start your search or need help narrowing down which software to choose:

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