UMMS Affiliation

Department of Medicine; Meyers Primary Care Institute

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Document Type



Health Communication | Health Information Technology | Health Services Administration


BACKGROUND: Patient-physician communication during clinical encounters is essential to ensure quality of care. Many studies have attempted to improve patient-physician communication. Incorporating patient priorities into agenda setting and medical decision-making are fundamental to patient-centered communication. Efficient and scalable approaches are needed to empower patients to speak up and prepare physicians to respond. Leveraging electronic health records (EHRs) in engaging patients and health care teams has the potential to enhance the integration of patient priorities in clinical encounters. A systematic approach to eliciting and documenting patient priorities before encounters could facilitate effective communication in such encounters.

OBJECTIVE: In this paper, we report the design and implementation of a set of EHR tools built into clinical workflows for facilitating patient-physician joint agenda setting and the documentation of patient concerns in the EHRs for ambulatory encounters.

METHODS: We engaged health information technology leaders and users in three health care systems for developing and implementing a set of EHR tools. The goal of these tools is to standardize the elicitation of patient priorities by using a previsit "patient important issue" questionnaire distributed through the patient portal to the EHR. We built additional EHR documentation tools to facilitate patient-staff communication when the staff records the vital signs and the reason for the visit in the EHR while in the examination room, with a simple transmission method for physicians to incorporate patient concerns in EHR notes.

RESULTS: The study is ongoing. The anticipated completion date for survey data collection is November 2021. A total of 34,037 primary care patients from three health systems (n=26,441; n=5136; and n=2460 separately recruited from each system) used the previsit patient important issue questionnaire in 2020. The adoption of the digital previsit questionnaire during the COVID-19 pandemic was much higher in one health care system because it expanded the use of the questionnaire from physicians participating in trials to all primary care providers midway through the year. It also required the use of this previsit questionnaire for eCheck-ins, which are required for telehealth encounters. Physicians and staff suggested anecdotally that this questionnaire helped patient-clinician communication, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CONCLUSIONS: EHR tools have the potential to facilitate the integration of patient priorities into agenda setting and documentation in real-world primary care practices. Early results suggest the feasibility and acceptability of such digital tools in three health systems. EHR tools can support patient engagement and clinicians' work during in-person and telehealth visits. They could potentially exert a sustained influence on patient and clinician communication behaviors in contrast to prior ad hoc educational efforts targeting patients or clinicians.




agenda setting, digital health, electronic health record, electronic health record documentation, health care teams, patient engagement, patient portal, patient priorities, patient–physician communication, standard work

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Copyright ©Ming Tai-Seale, Rebecca Rosen, Bernice Ruo, Michael Hogarth, Christopher A Longhurst, Lina Lander, Amanda L Walker, Cheryl D Stults, Albert Chan, Kathleen Mazor, Lawrence Garber, Marlene Millen. Originally published in JMIR Research Protocols (, 26.08.2021. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Research Protocols, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

DOI of Published Version



Tai-Seale M, Rosen R, Ruo B, Hogarth M, Longhurst CA, Lander L, Walker AL, Stults CD, Chan A, Mazor K, Garber L, Millen M. Implementation of Patient Engagement Tools in Electronic Health Records to Enhance Patient-Centered Communication: Protocol for Feasibility Evaluation and Preliminary Results. JMIR Res Protoc. 2021 Aug 26;10(8):e30431. doi: 10.2196/30431. PMID: 34435960; PMCID: PMC8430844. Link to article on publisher's site

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JMIR research protocols

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.