Jo Lynne Varner Helps Her Practice Improve Health Care Quality and Patient Engagement
Jo Lynne Varner is the Administrator at Little Rock Pediatric Clinic (LRPC) in Little Rock, Arkansas. LRPC’s seven physicians and staff serve a diverse, urban patient population. In 2009, Ms. Varner and her colleagues implemented an electronic health record (EHR) system and soon after developed a patient portal to improve patient engagement and communication. In 2013, LRPC began participating in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Asthma Quality Improvement Initiative, a national program aimed at helping patients improve control of asthma symptoms. For the initiative, LRPC is using its EHR system to track asthma patients, submit data to the National Asthma Registry, and improve health care quality.
Implementing an EHR System
In her role as practice Administrator, Ms. Varner facilitated the EHR system implementation. For LRPC, the key was providing adequate training to the practice’s providers, nurses, and support staff. During the training process, Ms. Varner encouraged one of LRPC’s providers to act as the EHR system “super user”. “One of our physicians became very interested in the EHR system,” explained Ms. Varner. “He was our ‘go-to-guy’ when other providers had questions and acted as our Health IT champion.” After much effort and many adjustments along the way, Ms. Varner and LRPC successfully implemented the EHR system and began using the system to improve health care quality and patient engagement.
Participation in the Asthma Program and Improved Health Care Quality
With an EHR system in place, LRPC was able to begin participating in the Asthma Quality Improvement Initiative. For example, LRPC incorporated a clinical decision support (CDS) rule into the EHR system, which directs providers to initiate specific clinical guidelines for asthma treatment. “When a provider opens an asthma patient’s chart, there is an alert identifying the patient as having asthma,” Ms. Varner explained. “The CDS rule enables our providers to ensure patients get treatment plans based on standardized, national guidelines.”
In addition, LRPC is using the EHR system to generate patient-specific education resources to better engage patients in controlling their asthma symptoms. At the end of an office visit, providers can simply click on a link in the EHR system to print out a handout on asthma medication or email the patient’s parents a video on how to use an inhaler. “We have these resources in the EHR to make patient education as efficient as possible for our providers and to ensure our patients don’t have to look for outside help,” explained Ms. Varner.
LRPC’s Success and Next Steps
Although LRPC’s participation in the AAP’s Asthma Quality Improvement Initiative is only just beginning, Ms. Varner knows the EHR system is making a huge difference in health care quality. Using tools like CDS and patient-specific education resources, LRPC is helping patients control their asthma symptoms and improve health care quality.
EHR implementation was only the first step for LRPC on the journey to quality improvement. “The National Committee for Quality Assurance recently approved our Patient-Centered Medical Home application, and we are now working to gain recognition,” added Ms. Varner. Furthermore, the practice is using its patient portal to provide patients with access to clinical summaries, medical records, and educational materials, as well as the ability to schedule appointments, communicate with clinicians, and request medication refills.