"Still, there’s often confusion about who is caring for the patient ... " Playing off of Jimmy the Greek's comment,…
Those that follow me on Twitter know what I’ve been doing this week as I traveled to the rolling hillsides of Verona, Wisconsin. Epic’s Expert User Group (XGM) meeting was in its second week, with a heavy focus on clinical topics. It was great to catch up with some old friends, most of whom I worked with on other EHR systems across the last two decades. Each hospital and health system has certainly had its own healthcare technology journey, but it’s clear that for quite a few of them, all roads have led to Epic.
I’ve attended a variety of user groups across most of the major vendors and there are quite a few elements that set Epic apart as far as meetings. Rather than having to rely on hotels or conference and convention centers for meeting space, Epic’s purpose-built facility makes things incredibly easy for attendees. Presentation rooms are interestingly named, amusingly decorated, and full of light – unlike the cavernous spaces divided by portable walls that many of us are used to when we go to meetings. The meeting area also featured booths from various local vendors selling various kinds of cheeses, chocolates, locally produced soaps, and more. I enjoyed seeing everything Wisconsin has to offer and from the number of sales transactions, it appears others did as well.
Another thing that sets Epic apart is its outstanding culinary team. I’ve had plenty of questionable meals at conferences, but the menu selections at XGM were truly over the top. There’s a definite “farm-to-table” feel with lots of healthy offerings. Goat cheese and asparagus options appeared at several meals, which made me very happy, as I like them but don’t often cook them. Attendees were even able to download a 95-page document with recipes in the event they wanted to replicate the experience at home. I’ll definitely be availing myself of the recipe for scones.
Many attendees toured the campus, although rain on Tuesday put a small dent in that. It’s been great meeting other physicians involved in clinical informatics work, especially in disciplines that I haven’t worked in for a while. I enjoyed learning about different groups’ approaches to trauma-informed care and how to use EHR tools to better support patients. One of my favorite presentations was by UCLA Health, which has been using Natural Language Processing to identify patient portal messages that contain high-risk topics. It allows clinical care teams to address those messages more quickly, which hopefully will lead to improved outcomes. The team acknowledged the impact that the COVID pandemic has had on its work, and I know there was a lot of sympathy from audience members whose own projects may have been sidetracked or even canceled as a result of changes in organizational priorities.
It’s always a challenge to balance what’s going on at your day job with attending a conference, and I had a couple of conversations with physician informaticists who were reacting to the idea of a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. My OB/GYN colleagues are noting increased patient demand for appointments to place long-acting contraceptive devices as well as those to discuss prescriptions for emergency contraceptive medications. With several states having laws in place that would go into effect immediately upon the event of an overturn, I understand their desire to be proactive. There have been requests to alter physician schedules to add procedure slots as well as to create outbound patient portal messaging to try to reduce the number of phone calls the offices are receiving. Life as a clinical informaticist is certainly never dull.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape for virtual contraceptive services, which were offered by the majority of clinics surveyed for a recent article. Pre-pandemic, only 11% of those surveyed offered telehealth consultations for contraception, with the number rising to 79% after March 2020. Apparently, 22% of those surveyed had drive-through contraceptive clinics. Although I don’t recall hearing about any of those in my area, it’s a great idea. I found it interesting that 20% of people closed their in-person clinics and only offered services via telehealth. The study had a relatively small sample size of around 900 respondents. It will be interesting to see what happens to this landscape in coming months.
In speaking with other attendees, behavioral health continues to be a hot topic. There are too few providers to meet demand and organizations are looking to creative offerings such as teletherapy and self-service interventions for patients. Staffing challenges were also a common theme, and organizations are looking to use pre-visit questionnaires to help gather data prior to the visit so that the patient rooming process is more efficient. Automated alerts to let patients know when their care teams were running late are gaining traction. Many of the solutions presented by clients focused on shifting various tasks from the staff to patients. Although those moves can definitely support patient engagement, they’re also ways to help mitigate staff burnout. Many organizations are still struggling to hire office-based nurses, medical assistants, care coordinators, and patient care technicians, so they’re looking for whatever efficiency boosts they can find. It sounds like there are a lot of optimization projects going on, with hospitals trying to fit that work in before a potential next pandemic wave.
On Wednesday, which happened to also be Star Wars Day, a couple of presenters included Star Wars references in their slide decks, and I spotted several attendees in costume. I closed out my meeting experience with a trip to “Xtra Hour,” which was advertised as a social event for food and fun at the end of the day. The event featured a variety of food and drink, including a lovely crab and leek appetizer and sparkly galactic-themed lemonade. I heard the mini cupcakes were good as well as the mini meringue desserts. Attendees had the chance to take part in several activities including craft projects and giveaways, and of course there was plenty of good old-fashioned socializing. Then it was back to the hotel to put my feet up and to pack so I can head home in the morning. Overall, it was a great experience and I’m heading back with a notebook full of ideas and thoughts to make life better for my end users and their patients. I was also happy to be able to have in-person encounters with many of the people I work with regularly. Building relationships is always one of my favorite parts of these events.
What is your favorite part of a user group meeting? Leave a comment or email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.