While not quite yet at 'Nirvana,' Peninsula Regional Medical Center's physician builder program boosts EHR satisfaction

Provider struggles endured both during and in the aftermath of new technology initiatives can arise at any organization. However, not every hospital and health system takes the same approach to tackle the problem.

After recognizing its provider satisfaction levels with its Epic EHR were not as high as it wanted, Salisbury, Md.-based Peninsula Regional Medical Center about a year ago launched a physician builder program with the goal of fostering relationships between its IT and clinical community.

The community hospital is home to about 600 physicians, with eight physician builders currently in place. These physician builders represent various departments within PRMC, including ambulatory, cardiology, pediatrics, surgery and oncology. They help bridge the gap in knowledge between clinical and IT departments when it comes to developing EHR functionalities and monitoring workflows, Mark Weisman, MD, chief medical information officer at PRMC, told Becker's Hospital Review.

"We need those providers who have the knowledge close to the front lines that can give the clinical use input that's needed to build things in the EHR," Dr. Weisman said. "These decisions are made every day, and without a provider that knows the workflows and the impact, then we're facing either a lot of rework or disgruntled providers."

Dr. Weisman oversees the hospital's physician builder program, which he said has begun generating more traction within the last five to six months. The physicians involved with the program tackle a wide berth of IT initiatives, including building new functionalities within Epic, working with the EHR analysts, reviewing workflows and collaborating with providers to train them on different features.

Capitalizing on the physician builders' strengths is what helps generate success within the program, and in turn, the hospital overall, Dr. Weisman said. These individuals are providers who see patients and gain firsthand experience of pain points in the care delivery process. Their collaboration with administrative colleagues also helps them pinpoint operational challenges, such as inefficient and disorganized order sets, that can be solved with technology.

"Physician builders tend to have a desire to help their colleagues," Dr. Weisman said. "Not only do they want to help patients but they want to make the system work better for everyone, and that's a great quality when you can find it. Not every physician has it."

Recently, a physician builder was able to eliminate financial waste at PRMC after identifying an unnecessary lab test that was continuously ordered by physicians because it was automatically included in the order set. While the change was very minor, it still made an impact on operational costs, which is important to show hospital administrators and financial executives, Dr. Weisman said.

"As physician builders, we have to always be thinking of 'how do we justify our existence?' which is different for physicians," Dr. Weisman said. "Physicians can usually just think 'okay, I'm seeing patients. That justifies my existence.' This is a different world."

Physician builders must always work on demonstrating their value to their hospital because their impact is not a direct return on investment, Dr. Weisman said. PRMC's physician builders keep track of their projects, like their work to reduce denials that result from documentation errors, to showcase ROI.

Showing that they can help make physicians' lives easier while also cutting costs illustrates physician builders' positive impact on the organization as a whole. While the process requires balance among IT staff and clinicians, the relationships that are cultivated through the program are ultimately instrumental to driving provider and patient satisfaction rates.

"The relationships are so important to putting out a phenomenal product that our patients and our providers will love, and we were missing that before launching the physician builder program," Dr. Weisman said. "So we're on that journey. I wouldn't say that we're at Nirvana yet, but we're heading there."

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