When speaking with clinicians who travel to see patients, I was surprised to discover how many were using Outlook or Google calendar on their mobile devices to manage their schedules. In some cases, the calendar entries were just reminders about which facility (hospital, clinic, ALF, SNF, hospice) they were expected at. In other cases, they maintained an appointment entry for each patient they planned to see—often including patient phone numbers, address, directions, and visit details!
Coming from the ambulatory clinic setting, this seemed odd to me. I was used to seeing the patient schedule in the EHR, and the clinician’s private schedule in their personal calendars, with no overlap of the two. So we did some research to find out what’s driving this behavior. Here’s what we found.
Why Traveling Docs Love their Calendar Apps
Mobile calendar applications such as Outlook, Google Calendar, and Apple’s iCal seem to work well for physicians on the go. The proof is in the number of clinicians who regularly use these tools to plan their day. Here is what we discovered were key reasons providers can get enough of their personal calendar apps:
- Mobile calendar apps are universal. They work across the gamut of mobile devices and operating systems, from Android and iOS to Windows and even Blackberry!
- Mobile devices are always within reach. Checking for what’s next in the schedule is as easy as flipping over your phone.
- Mobile devices are always on. You don’t need to find or even turn on your laptop. It doesn’t require booting or launching a sophisticated EHR. (Note to mention waiting for a “critical” Windows update in the middle!)
- Mobile data is available offline. No network, no problem. Mobile calendar apps seem to keep working regardless of connectivity.
- Alerts and reminders when you need them. Let’s face it; we’re all a little forgetful. Personal calendar apps gently remind you when you need to be somewhere without the jarring interruption associated with a call or page. Even better reminders might come along with information such as a summary of the next patient visit.
- Simple interface to add appointments. Clinicians can add events to their calendar themselves in about 10 seconds, without ever navigating opening their laptop and navigating a myriad of screens in their EHR.
- A complete picture of the day. Unlike clinic or inpatient setting, traveling clinicians aren’t seeing patients in chunks of time. When patient visits are interspersed with staff meetings, IDGs, and surgeries, personal calendar apps offer clinicians a consolidated view of their day.
- Because working in multiple EHRs is no longer a rarity. Whether clinicians are working in different settings (each with its own EHR), or contracting with multiple entities, a personal calendar app shows them their actual schedule across all the EHRs and organizations they are scheduled in.
Making Calendar Apps Work for Schedulers
It’s clear, Outlook, Google Calendar, and Apple iCal work for clinicians. It’s just incredibly inconvenient for schedulers. The most common practice I’ve seen is that scheduling staff bear the burden of ‘syncing’ clinician’s personal calendars with the EHR schedule, shuttling between the two to check for availability and often keying the same information into both! And matters only get worse for schedulers if they are dealing with more than one EHR!
What the industry really needs is a solution that marries personal calendar apps used by clinicians, with their multiple EHR schedules. Unfortunately, straightforward replication – basically copying all events between the EHR and personal calendar – doesn’t really work. As the saying goes, “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!”
After interviewing a number of schedulers, here’s what they’d like to see in a calendar sync solution.
- Universal – any solution would need to work with all the major personal calendar apps (Outlook, Office 365, Google, Apple iCal) because there’s no telling which app their clinician prefers to use.
- Any EHR – regardless of how obscure or ‘closed’ the EHR platform, the solution must be able to pull patient appointments from the EHR schedule and push that information to the clinician’s personal calendar.
- Automatic – as changes are made in clinician’s personal calendar (meeting canceled, PTO added), they should be reflected back into the EHR.
- Ownership – divides control of events between schedulers and clinicians. For example, clinicians don’t want schedulers changing PTO or management meetings on their personal calendar. Inversely, clinicians probably shouldn’t be changing patient appointments without the knowledge of schedulers who are committing time to patients.
- Consolidated view (because their EHR doesn’t offer one) – let’s face it, EHRs aren’t built to manage travel, office meetings and personal events (such as PTO). A workable solution offers schedulers a consolidated view which shows provider’s non-patient events overlapped with patient appointments from the EHR.
- Multiple – most of us have multiple personal calendars. One for personal, one for family, one for work, etc… The solution is be able to sync across those multiple personal calendars.
- Flexible – they want to decide how much detail regarding patient appointments appear in the clinician’s personal calendar. Some clinicians just want to see a single event for each place they have to visit that day. Others want a separate event for each patient on their schedule, including driving directions!
Our research has shown that clinicians who travel to see patients cherish the simplicity of the personal calendar app on their mobile phone. There are multiple good, logical reasons for this behavior, even though the practice of flies in the face of HIPAA security practices, creates significantly more work for schedulers, and is riddled with possibility of double entry errors. The need for a solution is only growing as clinicians are called to treat our aging population in their homes, ALFs, SNFs, etc.