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Sonal Patel, MD, on Flexibility, EHR Optimizations, and Compassion

Est. Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Our “Physician Voices” series empowers doctors to share their unique stories, expert perspectives, and helpful insights. In this Q&A, Dr. Patel explores clinical autonomy’s importance, virtual scribe’s value, technology’s impact on patient satisfaction, and more.

Why did you choose to go into independent practice?

I really wanted the autonomy that would allow me to put my patients first. That was my main goal, desire, and reason for going into private practice. As an independent doctor, I can decide how much time I spend with my patients, how to best address their needs, and which formats or approaches to use, whether that’s in-person or a virtual visit. I didn’t want to work for an institution that didn’t permit that patient-centered flexibility. Between work and school, parents and patients have busy schedules, which I’m better able to accommodate as an independent doctor.

I control my schedule, so I’m able to reserve time for emergencies. I never want my patients to feel like they can’t reach me for a 15-minute virtual visit if they really need to talk. By owning my own practice, I’m able to prioritize patients and use every tool possible to help them in any way I can.

Icon of megaphone radiating sound. [Hear Dr. Patel discuss her journey to independence on the American Medical Association’s “Thriving in Private Practice” podcast!]

What do you love most about the art, science, and practice of medicine?

While I love using scientific knowledge to help our patients with their medical issues, I also believe that the art of medicine includes caring for our patients’ emotional health. Treating the whole patient means supporting both mental and physical well-being. Certainly, prescribing medications and ordering studies are important procedures, but so is nurturing patients’ mind, body, and spirit. That holistic care, especially among pediatric patients, is what I find most rewarding. A key element here is compassion. We strive to show compassion every step of the way, from the first phone call through every follow-up visit. Parents don’t schedule appointments with pediatric neurologists for routine checkups. There’s always a health issue that brings them to us. That’s scary for parents, and so we want to show them that we’re an office that cares.

What are the main challenges your specialty faces?

There’s a concerning lack of pediatric neurologists, locally and nationwide. From Chicago to Ohio to California, everywhere I’ve practiced I’ve seen a shortage of pediatric neurologists. This issue was particularly noticeable when I was employed by larger health systems. Imagine you’re a parent and your child has a seizure for the first time. You take them to the hospital and hear that you’ll have to wait three weeks to schedule an appointment. That was simply not acceptable to me as a medical provider. And my specialty is shrinking; pediatric neurologists in my area are retiring but no one is replacing them. Thankfully, we were able to hire a new pediatric neurologist. This will allow us to see more patients, which is important given the shortage, while continuing to practice medicine as we see best.

[Discover how a partnership helped equip Dr. Patel with tools, technology, and support to start her own practice.]

What tools and support have you found most helpful in improving your day-to-day practice of medicine?

Having an effective, efficient electronic health record (EHR) is essential when it comes to time-savings and accuracy. The ability to dictate directly into the EHR through a digital scribe is a huge benefit to my practice. After visits, I just open the app and dictate my notes while the information is top-of-mind. There’s no need to check later or spend an hour reviewing my transcriptions. And having this integrated into my EHR makes real-time sharing with pediatricians in my network fast and easy. Plus, I’m able to see their notes and labs to avoid redundant or duplicative testing. (No one wants to stick a pediatric patient for an unnecessary blood draw just because your EHR lost their results.) Having this accurate information at your fingertips makes for better patient care and a better patient experience.

What technology and support can help physicians transition to and succeed in value-based care?

Again, easily accessible medical records. I saw in the news recently that Oracle acquired Cerner. I’ve read that breaking down data silos and improving interoperability to help providers access information more easily were major factors in the multi-billion-dollar deal. That makes perfect sense. Too often, there’s a major disconnect between which tests were conducted and what doctors see. Technology can help narrow that gap so that we can see a patient’s lifetime medical history, their tests, their results, their treatment plans — everything.

Another way EHRs can support value-based care is through a vetted, tiered referral network. For instance, when I prescribe an MRI, I’m able to see different facilities’ ratings from cost and quality perspectives. The best part is that this information is all in one place. I don’t have to click around or clutter my workflow. I can just review the options, find a highly-rated facility that I trust, and submit my order. This type of technology can really help drive down costs, which in turn drives value-based care.

Sonal Patel, MD, is double-boarded in Neurology with Special Qualification in Child Neurology and Clinical Neurophysiology. She is a compassionate and caring physician that is devoted to patient care. Her research interests are epilepsy, headaches, and the use of mindfulness and meditation in children to improve their neurological health.

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