• Print

Health IT Success Stories

Dr. Gilbert Uses Clinical Summaries to Engage Patients

'The ability to share trends and engage the patient in their care is just light years above what we could do with paper.' - Dr. Michael Gilbert

Dr. Michael Gilbert is a family physician at St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group (SJHMG), a 75-physician multispecialty group in Orange, California. Dr. Gilbert also serves as the Informatics Officer at SJHMG and has 20 years of experience directing informatics projects, including electronic health record (EHR) implementation at SJHMG. Dr. Gilbert is a strong advocate of the meaningful use incentive program and understands its potential to improve health care quality. He recently helped SJHMG leverage clinical summaries to improve health care quality for its patients.

Clinical Summaries Improve Health Care Quality

Even after implementing an EHR, Dr. Gilbert realized patients were only retaining about 20 percent of the information he and his colleagues shared with them during office visits. To more fully engage patients in their care, help patients remember their care plans, and achieve meaningful use, Dr. Gilbert wanted providers in the medical group to start providing clinical summaries to patients after each office visit. Clinical summaries, which contain basic clinical information, such as medications prescribed, upcoming appointments, and other care plan instructions, can improve patient-provider communication and help patients remember important information.

Despite the benefits of clinical summaries, SJHMG’s providers were skeptical at first. “The physicians were initially reluctant to provide patients with clinical summaries, as doing so would alter their workflows,” Dr. Gilbert explained. To ease the burden on providers, SJHMG programmed its EHR system to automatically summarize some aspects of the office visit, such as changes to a patient’s medication list. This change streamlined provider workflows and made the process of providing patients with clinical summaries easier and more efficient.

Dr. Gilbert and his colleagues knew the workflow improvements were just the first step and that patient engagement means more than simply handing clinical summaries to patients after each visit. After one of SJHMG’s providers uses the EHR system to generate a clinical summary, a medical assistant then sits down with the patient to review the clinical summary and “make sure they understand the information.” This in-office follow-up gives patients another chance to ask questions that might not have come up during their time with SJHMG’s providers. With clinical summaries, SJHMG is able to better engage patients in their care, strengthen patient-provider relationships, and ultimately, provide higher quality care.

Meaningful Use Leads to Increased Satisfaction

"Clinical summaries have led to increased satisfaction among both patients and providers,” Dr. Gilbert said. While meaningful use incentives were one motivating factor behind the decision to provide patients with clinical summaries, the medical group was also inspired by a broader desire to provide high quality care. Reflecting on their success, Dr. Gilbert encourages other providers to “set a high bar so that your efforts will have an impact on patients and create a personal sense of fulfillment, while also satisfying requirements for quality improvement programs, such as meaningful use.”