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5 Ideas for Surgeons to Leverage Online Potential

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Cheryl ZapataHere are five ideas for spine surgeons to leverage online and internet access to improve their relationship with patients and their clinical practice in the future from Cheryl Zapata, Chief Development Officer of Texas Back Institute.

1. EHR access from anywhere.
Digitizing patient records and placing them online allows providers to access up-to-date information about the patient from anywhere. Spine surgeons can easily access this information and provide better care when patients call during off-hours.

"It's easier to acquaint yourself with the patients you haven't seen in a while," says Ms. Zapata. "You have access to that information immediately and if patients call during off hours, you can treat them more effectively because you have the information about their medication and other medical history right in front of you."

The online EHR systems also allow surgeons and researchers to aggregate data and track patient outcomes for future studies. "You have the tools to quickly complete data gathering that in the past was very painstaking and took a lot of time," says Ms. Zapata. "Now you are able to gather that information and see trends to provide patients with better quality care."

2. Easier patient communication.
The internet affords a safe and easy place for physicians and patients to communicate basic information. Patients can use secure portals to enter their demographic information and medical history and physicians can communicate their background and qualifications with a simple online profile.  Physicians can even electronically "push" information to the patients regarding their treatment plans or test results.  Patient portals allow patients to be more involved in their care by keeping their information updated and provide an easier form of communication with their physician.

Additionally, "One of the huge strengths of online access is the ability to create a stronger feeling of community," says Ms. Zapata. "Certainly having access to websites, Facebook, Twitter and other social media communication with patients can also help with urgent issues. We had a major storm and it took out our electricity, but we were able to access the internet offsite and post on our website our phones were down. We posted an emergency contact number and a lot of patients were able to access that information."

3. Builds a community of patients.
The internet also allows patients to communicate with each other. Potential patients can speak with former patients about their experience and, if it's positive, their comments could drive more people to the practice.

"We had a patient post on our social networking pages information about her surgery being great and someone responded asking whether the surgery could work for him," says Ms. Zapata. "The first patient talked the person who responded into scheduling an appointment. We've seen that happen numerous times with social networking, and patients are able to mutually support each other."

It takes relatively few resources to coordinate social networking space online for your practice or surgeons, and patients can connect independently.

4. Broadcast surgeries for patients' families.
Texas Back Institute has occasionally blogged during surgery, especially if the patient traveled from out-of-town and their families weren't able to travel with them. The practice places a social administrator in the operating room to update the blog, post pictures and answer questions from the family in real time.

"It makes the patients feel very supported and the family members are happy because they know what is going on and they feel like they are part of the surgery," says Ms. Zapata. "We have a special website set up for the procedure and the family members can log on. We have even had a request to post pictures of the device being used, and we were able to take that picture and post it."

5. Patient research and education.
Many patients are researching their symptoms or conditions on the internet, and surgeons can now provide informative information to a wide audience by posting educational materials on their websites or blogs.

"The internet allows physicians to answer general questions for patients and post information which can help them make informed decisions about their care," says Ms. Zapata. "Whether through video or blogging, through words or picture, they are able to really get a good feel for their condition and have a better understanding of their surgery as well as their recovery time. When patients know more about what is going on they are more confident in their outcomes."

More Articles on Spine Surgery:

8 Strategies to Overcome Decreasing Spine Surgery Reimbursements

10 Big Healthcare Policy Trends for Spine Surgeons to Know

5 Statistics on Postoperative Scoliosis Management

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