4 ways digital screening tools can make primary care visits more meaningful

Read how digital screening tools can help your primary care group ensure patient visits are more productive and better address their concerns.
Clinical Patient Experience

Patient visits are short, and clinicians are often pressed for time. But when primary care practices engage patients as active participants in their own care before, during and after their appointments, visits can become more meaningful for providers and patients alike.

During a recent Phreesia webinar, Christina Suh, MD, MPH, Phreesia’s Director of Clinical Content, Suzette Brown, MD, MPH, founder and Chief Operating Officer of Strong Children Wellness, and Cody Cramer, DBH, LPCC, Director of Health Solutions at Family Health Care of Northwest Ohio, discussed the positive effects digital screening can have on patient care. Here are four ways digital screening tools can help your primary care practice ensure that patients’ visits are productive and address the full spectrum of their concerns.

1. Collect patient information before the appointment

The first step toward making patient visits more meaningful can be made before they walk through your doors. With digital screening tools, patients can complete their intake tasks and provide the vital information you need, including their family medical history, reason for their visit and more, all from their mobile device before they come in for their appointment.

Asking for those details days ahead of their visit gives patients more time to thoroughly answer your intake questions and accurately input their information. It also saves your staff time and ensures that they have the most complete and current information about the patient when they arrive for their appointment.

“When you give patients the opportunity to answer clinical questions prior to the visit, you’re taking the burden off of the care team to spend their time asking those same questions,” Suh explains. “But more importantly, you’re equipping them with important patient details that proactively inform the encounter when the provider is sitting in the exam room.”

When all of a patient’s relevant information is available before the visit, primary care teams can make sure the appointment begins with a productive discussion and addresses exactly what the patient or family needs.

2. Address unmet social needs

According to a Kaiser Permanente study, 93% of patients believe their medical provider should ask them about social needs that impact their health. But unfortunately, less than a quarter of U.S. hospitals and only 16% of physician practices report screening for various social determinants of health (SDOH) such as food insecurity, housing instability, and utility and transportation needs.

Digital tools can simplify SDOH screening, while aligning with how patients want to be asked about their unmet social needs. One study found that 83% of pediatric patients’ caregivers preferred digital screenings to verbally answering clinicians’ questions when being screened for food insecurity. Caregivers also reported twice as many social needs when screened digitally, compared to a verbal screening.

At Strong Children Wellness, Brown affirms that digital screenings are invaluable for getting productive conversations started with the practice’s patients and families, as well as connecting them with the right community organizations and resources.

“When they come in for the visit, we have the details that can inform our conversations,” she says. “We want to identify their needs, work with our community partners to link families to the appropriate resources, and follow up so that we can ensure they’re getting the help they need.

3. Communicate in patients’ preferred language

Meaningful visits between providers and their patients are built on effective communication. And with more than 20% of the U.S. population speaking a language other than English at home, many primary care providers see patients who might be better served in a different language.

For Family Health Care, language barriers can present a challenge because of its diverse patient population. However, with that in mind, the practice’s digital screening platform offers each clinical questionnaire in a patient’s preferred language, Cramer explains. Consequently, language barriers are immediately broken down, and patients with limited English proficiency can provide more accurate intake information ahead of their visit, making their appointment more comfortable and beneficial for all concerned.

“Having a picture of what’s happening, based on what the parent or patient noted before the visit in their language of choice, is tremendously valuable on so many levels when we’re in the exam room,” Cramer says.

With this intake technology, practice staff and patients who feel more at ease speaking a language other than English are better supported, and their time together is more productive, which can lead to better overall outcomes.

4. Provide whole-person care

Digital screening tools also can better position healthcare organizations to provide whole-person care, which is not only intrinsic to high-quality primary care, but particularly important in today’s world.

“If a patient’s basic needs aren’t being met, the chances that they’re going to take their diabetes medication, for example, are low,” Cramer says. “And as we continue to go through the pandemic, social and behavioral health needs are even deeper than before.”

Brown similarly recommends screening for more than just clinical issues at every visit, no matter the patient’s age.

“Among adults, and even in younger kids, the needs are tremendous right now,” she says. “It’s critical to systematically screen at every encounter for issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse. I would encourage everyone to start with social needs and behavioral health at every visit.”

With digital screening tools in place, care teams armed with a patient’s screening results before their visit also can formulate a care plan that specifically addresses that patient’s needs across multiple areas. In addition, digital screening tools help providers understand each patient’s activation level—the knowledge, skills and confidence they possess to self-manage their care—which gives them insights into the types of care and services that would best support that individual.

“Being able to make a warm handoff to the provider or another member of the care team who can help address whatever the issue is at the time for a patient can make all the difference,” Brown says.

Ultimately, high-quality primary care doesn’t just apply to clinical care, but rather to making sure that patients get the whole-person care they need in all areas of their lives.

“We all know that the focus on the whole person is so important for us because it means we’re accounting not just for the physical health of a person, but for their behavioral, emotional, spiritual and social health,” Suh says. “We want to focus on the well-being of the person and not just monitor for the absence of disease.”

Visit Phreesia.com to learn more about our digital tools that automatically collect patient-reported outcomes and streamline clinical screenings.