A key strategy for access leaders looking to reach more patients is to think “EHR Plus.”

At Maury Regional Health, we serve patients across eight counties in southern and middle Tennessee, with a lot of variance in how they want and need to access care. We have patients in rural areas with less reliable internet, and we also know that patients have high expectations for their consumer experience.

To be able to provide the access that our patients expect, Maury Regional Health uses the EHR as the key source of truth and expands the channels available to patients through integration.

Three key pieces of our “EHR Plus” strategy:

     1) Keep the EHR the source of truth.

Everyone from our staff to our technology and access leaders is aligned in keeping Oracle Cerner our source of truth.

When we evaluate any technology additions, we look for FHIR API connectivity with our EHR to communicate using the most up-to-date information and write back any changes such as scheduled appointments.

In fact, our goal is that our staff don’t even realize all the different vendors we have attached to Oracle Cerner – they simply see it as the EHR. One example is our patient engagement platform. Patients see the messages and self-service options as communication from MRH, and staff see all updates in Oracle Cerner.

What to consider: Especially when short on staff, it’s not sustainable to ask staff to jump through hoops or double-document information. A new system must be deeply integrated to reduce, not add to, the tasks completed day-to-day by staff.

      2) Choose additions to the EHR strategically to offer new modes of access.

At Maury Regional Health, we serve an incredibly diverse population with all sorts of technology infrastructure. We know that healthcare isn’t necessarily accessible to everyone out of the box, and we need to match our technology both to what’s available to our patients and to their expectations for their care.

One common request from our patients was the ability to communicate by text message – it’s more convenient for many of our patients and is more accessible if someone doesn’t have reliable internet connectivity.

On the system side we also needed the ability to reach more of our patients at once, such as when a provider is out sick.

By adding on the ability to ingest information from Oracle Cerner, text the patient, and bring back their responses into the EHR, we were able to match our patients’ expectations and give them better access to our services. We’ve been able to create a consumer experience our patients want, while also recognizing $500,000 more in revenue by reducing no-shows across key departments.

What to consider: It’s worth strategically expanding your tech stack to give patients access to their care in the way they want it. Look for opportunities to improve the experience for a wide variety of patients, as well as staff.

     3) Prioritize real-time customization integrated with the EHR.

With multiple specialties and sites spread across eight counties, Maury Regional’s access technology needs to offer real-time communication and updates. Healthcare isn’t one-size-fits-all, and customization is a huge priority for all of the products we integrate with our EHR.

For example, we have a lot of demand for our specialists who have very limited availability. It’s crucial that we’re able to prepare patients for those appointments and make sure the care is completed successfully, so patients aren’t delayed waiting for the next available slot. Different specialists and types of appointment might have sequenced diagnostic tests, specific patient forms, or other information that requires very clear communication to the patient.

With our access tools, tight integration with our EHR and customizability of the tools makes sure that the patient gets the right communication, at the right time, specific to their care journey and the way they want to communicate with us.

What to consider: Balance standardization with customization when selecting and implementing access tools. Ensure that your tools have the capability to use EHR data to customize patient communication to each person, while keeping the EHR up to date.

Interested in hearing more about Maury Regional Health’s approach? Learn more here.

Originally published March 2024 in Becker’s Hospital Review.