Family doctor Heather La Borde says panel work is strengthening her relationship with her patients. “My patients actually tell me they feel more cared for,” Dr. La Borde said. “I’m not only providing a service when patients turn up. I’m taking care of them in the background, doing a little bit every day, and they appreciate it.”

Panel work starts with a doctor asking patients to identify who their primary family doctor is, and then generating a list of patients currently—a panel—that is attached to them.

Part of Dr. La Borde’s daily activities include setting up rules in her Electronic Medical Record (EMR) to identify patients who have not had an A1c test within the past three months, or who may be overdue for a pap test or a colonoscopy.

Together with her staff, Dr. La Borde often phones patients who are overdue for screening and finds they are quite surprised and happy to be called. “Aren’t you ever on the ball,” one recently said.

How Dr. La Borde started paneling

Back in 2013, after Dr. La Borde returned from overseas and was determining the ideal size of her new panel, her PCN Liaison Lindsay Forbes suggested she formally identify patients as she went. The pair used the number of appointments Dr. La Borde had available each week and the types of patients she sees, to calculate her ideal panel size.

Because Dr. La Borde works part-time, sees a lot of pregnant women and has a mental health focus in her clinic on Thursdays, the ideal panel size was calculated at 560 to 580 patients.

Why go to a panel or EMR workshop?

In late 2015, Dr. La Borde attended a Panel Workshop for Clinic Teams*, known at her Primary Care Network as How to Panel.  By this time she had been doing panel work for more than a year. “I was already convinced and I left (the first workshop) realizing I needed to build my skills within my EMR.”

With this in mind, Dr. La Borde joined a Peer to Peer EMR Network Program** workshop in November 2015. The Wolf EMR specific workshop led by Peer Leader Dr. Heidi Fell gave her more than she’d hoped for. “The EMR workshop was phenomenal and I’d definitely recommend it. I was finally able to establish a colonoscopy screening rule—you have to pull from two areas to create that rule—and other pearls,” she said.

Within a month—thanks to the rule Dr. La Borde had set up with knowledge learned at the EMR workshop—her efforts had already benefitted a patient.

A 53-year-old patient who was flagged by the EMR as overdue for a colon cancer screen, was administered, and returned, a positive FIT (fecal immunochemical test). “[the patient] is now going for follow-up testing,” she said.

To physicians who are considering a panel or EMR workshop, she says: “You’ll find it’s surprising how much you learn and how much more comfortable you become with your EMR. Everyone walks away with pearls, even if you just learn how to highlight your smokers.”

Although six physicians from Bowmont Medical Clinic attended the November session, the clinic is now planning to take support staff along for the next one.

In summary

Dr. La Borde is clear about the value of her panel work—it’s a safety net both for her patients and for herself.

Today when patients come in for appointments for a sore throat, it is an opportunity for Dr. La Borde to check their chart and existing alerts to ensure screening is up to date.

“(With panel) you have this second layer of activity working in the background that is potentially life-saving for your patients,” Dr. La Borde said. “For so long, we’ve been good at providing care to people when they sit in front of us, but I don’t feel that’s where our job ends.”

Would you like to learn more about the workshops in this article?

* Panel Workshops for Clinic Teams are PCN sponsored events developed by Toward Optimized Practice. Physicians and clinic teams are introduced to practical concepts in a dynamic and fun atmosphere, with plenty of time for action planning as a clinic team. | Learn More |

** The Peer to Peer EMR Network Program focuses on sharing EMR expertise related to planned and proactive panel-based care in a Patient’s Medical Home. Toward Optimized Practice engages physicians and team members as peer leaders to share their EMR processes for panel identification, maintenance and management. Network program workshops are organized in collaboration with PCNs and are interactive and practical for physician and team participants | Learn More |