In 2014 I received one hundred thousand emails and sent ten thousand more.  Since I like to work a six day week that’s an average of around three hundred emails that I read and thirty that I sent.  I am afraid to count how many instant messages were sent and received.

A very small percentage of my electronic communications is spam, thanks to a very focused IT team.

Now, let’s extrapolate that out to physicians.  According the American academy of family physicians the average family physician has around 93.2 patient encounters per week.  I’m not quite sure how that’s even possible, but judging from how tired my PCP looks each day, it is happening.

The rate of referrals to specialists has been on the climb as well.  The most recent data I found was from 2009 but it showed 9.8% of visits end in a referral.  That figure had doubled over a ten year period so if the trend is good, the number must be at least 15% by now.

Each referral involves a metric tonne of data exchange.  The referring physician gets bombarded with a plethora of data from EMRs, secure texting systems, secure email messaging and a raft of other communications mechanisms.  It’s typical to have multiple accounts on all of these systems, hopefully with strong passwords, and remembering how to login is not easy.

In the ideal world your practice management system provides a centralised point where all these messages converge.  Unfortunately, not many vendors provide such an experience  Worse still, some hospitals don’t let data flow back and you have to use their portals.

So, what’s the solution?

First, not all information is of equal value.  Sending providers clinical messages and documents that are not prioritized can only result in information overload.  There must be a way to set policy based preferences that filter the information stream, flag important data, and deliver messages in the most expeditious way.

Second, the concept of delegation is critically important.  Some messages can, and should, be delegated to non-clinical staff within the practice.  It may be that after a preliminary review the message is put back into the provider’s queue because the clinical staff cannot act upon it, or require an expert opinion.

These two elements form the basis of a more useable notification system that could help to unload providers and help them deal with their daily messaging workflow.  My hope is that they will emerge in practice management software in the near term.

For now, providers are drowning in information.  Let’s throw them a life preserver!

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