There’s some old-school thinking floating around out there decrying electronic medical records (EMRs) because they supposedly prohibit clinicians from fully engaging with their patients. We say that’s just poppycock. Sure, lackluster PTs may shirk opportunities for quality face time with their patients in favor of not-so-quality face time with their computer screens, but the great PTs don’t let technology—especially incredibly helpful technology that patients actually want their healthcare practitioners to use—get in the way of developing exceptional relationships. In fact, great therapists use their EMR to build better patient relationships. Here’s how you can do the same:

Get Comfortable With Your EMR

In the words of WebPT Marketplace Director Brian Kunich, DPT, “You can’t pay attention to the patient if you don’t know where the information goes.” However, after you spend some time getting comfortable with your EMR—and understanding what information goes where—using it will become second nature, and you’ll be able to “spend more energy concentrating on the patient than on what or where you’re typing.”

Customize Your EMR

Tailoring your EMR to fit your clinic’s needs will ensure you can document smoother, faster, and with a lot less typing. If your EMR comes with smart text, turn it on and start entering common phrases and goals as presets, so you can cut down on the time you spend retyping the same information over and over again. This will free you up to devote more time to treating—and interacting with—your patients. Additionally, if your EMR allows you to create custom initial evaluation profiles, do it—and use them. That way, if—for example—you’re finding yourself entering the same information into two separate fields, you can remove one of them. And that means you won’t waste time—or energy—tabbing through extraneous fields.

Use the Right Technology

In addition to choosing the right EMR, you should choose the right technology—desktop, laptop, or tablet—on which to document. First, determine which technologies are compatible with your EMR. Then, determine which ones you actually enjoy using in your clinic. If possible, provide multiple technology options to your staff so that everyone always has a choice. After all, when your team members are comfortable using the technology you provide them, it’ll be easier for them to use it in a way that ensures patients are comfortable, too.

Work Your PROMs

According to this Commonwealth Fund article, patient-reported measures (PROMs) “attempt to capture whether the services provided actually improved patients’ health and sense of well-being.” These tools measure the aspects of improvement that matter to patients—including overall health, pain and fatigue levels, ability to complete certain functional tasks, and mood. In the same article, Mary Barton, MD, MPP—who serves as the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s vice president for performance measurement—says, “These are things that matter to patients: Do I feel better? Can my mom go up the stairs after hip surgery?”

In this post, I explained that asking patients questions about how they feel—and then showing that you’re interested in their answers—can enhance the patient-provider relationship. Plus, this type of engagement empowers patients to take an active role in their treatment. So, if your EMR provides integrated outcomes tracking, you can use PROM survey completion and score entry to further engage your patient in his or her care.

Instead of mutely entering patient data into your system—or waiting until the patient leaves to do it—involve the patient in the process by discussing his or her answers as you enter them into the system. You also can use this opportunity to discuss how your patients are progressing towards their goals as a result of your therapeutic intervention. After all, you’ll have the data to back it all up right there at your fingertips.

Change Your Mind

If you think you can’t manage EMR documentation and the patient relationship at the same time, think again. WebPT’s in-house counsel and compliance officer Veda Collmer, OTR, knows first-hand that excellent data collection and patient care are both possible—at the same time. As an attorney, she also knows that failing to produce defensible documentation that accurately and completely describes patient progress and therapist intervention can land even the best practitioners in a world of trouble. As Collmer advises in this post, your documentation “is a legal document,” which is why “it’s so critical that you have the most accurate documentation.” And you can’t do that with a subpar EMR or—worse yet—paper and pen.

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There’s no excuse for poor patient relationships—or documentation, for that matter. These strategies—plus the right physical therapy EMR—will ensure your documentation is defensible and your patients are happy.