Trust is key when a medical practice is working with an outside consultant to manage its EHR.
Derek Kosiorek, principal consultant with the Medical Group Management Association’s Healthcare Consulting Group, advises that practices partner with a consultant who is responsible for the entire technology lifecycle of the platform, from installing the software to ensuring that patient data is kept secure.
Further, he advises that healthcare experience is essential when looking for an outside consultant to manage the practice’s EHR.
“This is a long-term relationship you need to develop and you need to do due diligence on who they are,” says Rod Piechowski, senior director of health information systems at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.
Coming to a mutual agreement of the outside consultant’s responsibilities is important as a starting place, says Piechowski. “You want to put together an effective contract with this person that meets your practice’s needs so that you’re not disappointed later because you forgot to put something in [the contract]. That can create a tense relationship [with the outside consultant] or even a patient safety issue.”
Another reality to keep in mind is that your contact at the IT consulting firm may change over time as that firm changes – or the firm could even go out of business, says Piechowski. That means the practice needs to “deeply understand” its requirements and risk levels.
“If you don’t understand that, it’s much more difficult to understand who you want to work with [as an outside consultant],” he adds.
Piechowski also counsels practices to ensure that a staff member has enough technical expertise to challenge the IT consultant should issues arise related to the EHR.
It would be difficult for the practice to not have any technical capacity in-house, adds Piechowski. Thus, he recommends that a staff member be trained “on a first-responder basis” to tackle issues as they arise. The practice could engage with the consultant to provide that training to the staff member, or the employee could seek out that technical expertise on their own.
Consultants must understand the practice’s legal, compliance, and reporting requirements, he notes. “It’s not just about technology. There are reports that need to be sent to get paid by Medicare and Medicaid, and that involves some level of data gathering and analysis. If someone is going to do that [as an outside consultant], they need to understand all the privacy aspects of HIPAA.”
Kosiorek says that as more EHR vendors offer hosted solutions – which he expects to increase over the next five to seven years – practices will have less need for in-house technology expertise. Still, he notes that the cost of a hosted solution trends higher over time.