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Medical Practice Vendor Package Deals: The Pros and Cons

Medical Practice Vendor Package Deals: The Pros and Cons

Paula Taylor sees plenty of technology troubles on a regular basis — not the least of which arise when medical practices take an unnecessarily complicated approach to technology acquisitions.

In fact, Taylor, principal at Atlanta-based practice management consulting firm Better Performing Practices, is currently working with a practice that is stuck in a confusing web of technology vendors. "They're coming from a place right now where they have a hodgepodge of legacy systems," says Taylor of the four-physician OB/GYN practice she's currently working with. "It's very cost prohibitive for them because they do have so many vendors that are involved, and there are support fees on top of layers of support fees."

But cost is not the only problem the practice is experiencing. Its vast array of vendors and products makes it difficult for the practice — and its vendors — to troubleshoot when problems arise. "A lot of time in that practice has been wasted," says Taylor. "Whenever there is an issue [the practice is] trying to unpeel that onion to find out which vendor it is who's responsible, who's going to own that process."

For that reason, Taylor is helping the practice move to a more streamlined technology approach: A web-based package in which one vendor will provide a suite of technology products and services, including an EHR, practice management system, and revenue cycle management system.

Still, while the packaged approach is best for this practice, Taylor says there's no one-size-fits-all strategy to smart technology purchasing. One practice might thrive with a package, another practice might benefit from a more a la carte approach, in which it picks and chooses products from a variety of different vendors. "I really don't think there is a preferred way, it just depends on where they are, what kind of resources that they already have, what are they bringing to the table, where is it they want to go," says Taylor. "I've seen so many variations of it and I wouldn't say that there's any one way to build a better mousetrap with it."

To help determine which technology purchasing approach is best for your practice, we asked Taylor and a number of other medical practice technology consultants to weigh in. Here's what they said are some of the biggest considerations practices need to make when deciding between a package deal and a la carte approach.

Consider quality and expertise

As technology vendors attempt to lure in more customers — and make the most of each customer they attract — nearly all of them are offering packages, and they come in all shapes and sizes: from packages made up of multiple software products, such as an EHR, patient portal, and practice management system; to packages made up of software and hardware products, such as a practice management system, laptops, scanners, and printers; to packages made up of technology products and outsourced services, such as a practice management system and a revenue cycle management service — it's likely that your practice will have no trouble finding a package that checks off every item on your shopping list.

It's also likely that your practice will find a package that offers cost savings, says Michelle Holmes, principal at ECG Management Consultants, a Seattle-based healthcare consulting firm. "If you go with a single vendor, you may get some volume-type discounting where the more you buy from that one vendor they'll give you a deeper discounted level across the board," she says.

Still, don't let cost savings cloud your judgment when deciding between a package deal and a more piecemeal approach. One reason: As vendors rush to broaden their customer base and expand their technology offerings, some are releasing packaged products prematurely.

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