Microsoft Office 365 Boosts Communication, Morale for Small Provider Practice

Mihills Webb, a small provider practice in Southlake, Texas, says the messaging features of Microsoft Office 365 and Lync allow doctors to remain in the exam room with patients.

Mihills Webb Medical, a small provider practice in Southlake, Texas, has adopted cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 to make use of the platform's secure-messaging features to boost staff communication and morale.

Office 365 is the cloud-based version of the productivity platform that includes Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Lync and SharePoint.

A family physician practice, Mihills Webb offers preventative services, acute and urgent care, as well as chronic disease management. It consists of two full-time doctors, a full-time midlevel nurse practitioner and a part-time physician's assistant.

Office 365 allows Mihills Webb to move patients in and out of the office faster, according to Dr. Cody Mihills, a family physician with the Mihills Webb practice.

In addition, the presence-awareness capabilities of Office 365 enable doctors to remain in an exam room with patients without having to walk to another part of the 12,000-square-foot facility to communicate with their team.

Recently when Mihills needed his staff to correct some lab reports, he used Lync in Office 365 to communicate his needs to his team. "That way the staff was able to perform those duties without me having to step out of the exam room and explain what I needed—all this being done while I was talking to the patient," Mihills told eWEEK.

This type of multitasking saves a practice time and money, said Mihills. By communicating through Office 365's Lync software, rooms can be turned over to patients faster, he noted.

Mihills Webb also adopted the Office 365 cloud business productivity platform to comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations and to be able to sign business-associate agreements.

If he needs records from a hospital, Mihills requests them through instant messaging rather than leaving the exam room, he said.

"We try to keep [Mihills] locked in there if we can," joked Terri Andrews, practice manager at Mihills Webb, so he won't keep the patient waiting.

Front desk staff lets nurses in the back know about incoming patients through the instant messaging app in Lync, said Andrews.

Using Office 365 has saved 30 days of medical assistance time, allowing the practice to see more patients, said Mihills.

It also offers file-sharing capabilities that improve teamwork in a practice. Mihills Webb uses Office 365 to coordinate schedules and store the company's policy manual and a list of regular patients, according to Andrews.

Mihills Webb posted a manual for specialized testing using Office 365, she said.

"We have some information in there, and they're able to go in there and print it out so they're able to talk intelligently with a patient regarding a test that Dr. Mihills has ordered," said Andrews.

Staff morale has also improved by giving employees the ability to instant-message using Office 365's Lync, said Mihills.

"I've seen an improvement in office-wide morale as a result of these communication features," said Mihills. "You have a whole new marketing ploy here—make your employees happy."

When patients are sick, they tend to gripe a lot, Andrews noted. So the Lync platform allows staff to chat and lift each other up. "We have to keep employees entertained and try to keep it interesting so they're able to communicate with each other—and it brings them together," said Andrews.

With small practices such as Mihills Webb still the "backbone" of the U.S. health care system, cloud-based tools such as Office 365 will be key to increasing collaboration of care, reducing operational costs and decreasing patient wait times, according to Dennis Schmuland, chief health strategy officer for U.S. Health and Life Sciences at Microsoft.

Using Office 365, small practices can manage their workflow on any type of device, Schmuland noted.

"As a result, teams communicate with each other in real time, patients wait less time and teams can proactively coordinate care processes in a way that improves the safety, speed, and both the quality and experience of care for patients at a lower cost," Schmuland wrote in an email to eWEEK.

With electronic health records (EHRs) initially reducing productivity in physician practices as staffs learn how to incorporate them into their workflow, productivity tools such as Office 365 can offset this loss in productivity time, Schmuland suggested.

"To work together as a team around each patient, each team member must be continually aware of where other team members are, what they're working on and stay continually in sync with each other," Schmuland wrote. "Office 365 allows physicians and their staff to instantly find each other and communicate with each much more efficiently without interrupting them."