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Back to Basics: Simple Solutions Yield High ROI


Sure, the big IT tools help. But teaching your staff keyboarding, PC shortcuts, and how to use scanners and PDAs can go a long way toward boosting your operational efficiency.

Many of you will remember this well: a-s-d-f, j-k-l-; DING! a-s-d-f, j-k-l-; DING!

That’s right. Typing 101 - the bane of your existence way back in high school. The sight and sounds of a typewriter, once so prevalent and necessary to daily life both in and out of the office, now seem quite quaint.

But really, they’re not.

The device has changed, but the skills haven’t. Typing is now “keyboarding,” and we need to navigate the QWERTY setup with just as much proficiency now as we did back then. Think about it: Each of a practice’s staff members must feel comfortable using PCs and be able to type with some degree of efficiency to enter data they will need to retrieve again and again.

Therefore, the first technology add-on I recommend for any practice is a typing/keyboarding skills software application. Or enroll your staff members - clinical and administrative - in a class or an online program to help them develop and practice their typing skills. Allot time during the workweek for all employees who must use your PCs in the course of their duties for the necessary training.

You’ll reap the benefits from your investment for months and years to come as your group adopts additional technologies (perhaps even that EMR) that require them to spend more and more time with their keyboards.

Keyboarding is central to using many modern technology solutions, and everyone should both appreciate this fact and master the skill. Staff use typing skills when managing phone calls, determining patient insurance eligibility, scheduling appointments, tracking patient services, ordering supplies, and storing patient information, among other everyday duties.

Technology simplified

But is typing proficiency really all that crucial to helping your staff become more tech savvy?

You bet. If your office is staffed with expert typists, they will be able to accomplish their tasks better, with less effort and more accuracy - and on the first try.

Consider this: Your network server (if you have one) essentially operates as a central file cabinet for your entire staff. Each PC connected to your server can access a variety of folders in which you can store commonly used forms for ready use. Any staff member with network access can easily fill out individual forms and print clean documents as needed. This is quite an improvement over photocopying a photocopy of a form that ultimately produces a document of such poor quality it becomes illegible. The trick is to take advantage of electronic versions of documents, avoiding unnecessary duplication.

Here are some additional simple, inexpensive tech shortcuts that can help your practice run more smoothly without large monetary investment:

  • Create useful Windows shortcuts to repeatedly accessed server information. Your server can hold a plethora of information: spreadsheets indicating which labs are associated with which payers, phone numbers for local pharmacies and testing centers, and contact information for referral physicians. Make such information even more readily available by creating Windows shortcuts on the desktops of each staff member’s PC, negating the need to repeatedly search your virtual file cabinet for regularly accessed items.



  • Purchase an “all-in-one” device, and place it at your nursing station. If you can save your nurses footsteps by placing a local printer/fax/copier in front of them, you’ll give them more time for direct patient care and lessen the opportunities for falling off track (e.g., a nurse who must walk clear to the other end of the office to make a photocopy will pass umpteen fellow workers, all of whom could potentially interrupt her with impromptu questions or issues, both work- and personal-related).



  • Purchase software that allows you to scan your forms and create electronic documents for efficient patient information management. When additional patient requests come in, retrieve the form you’ve already created and modify only those fields the new request requires. This simple technique can save your nurses significant time when completing back-to-work forms, back-to-school forms, immunization records, and many other commonly used templates.



  • Invest in a high-speed, high-quality scanner, and scan and index your archived patient charts. You’ll reduce storage space and gain immediate access to old charts when patients you haven’t seen for ages suddenly reappear. Your billing employees can benefit greatly from digital filing. They probably already spend hours each week filing EOBs and then retrieving them for secondary billing or resubmissions.



  • Have someone else do your scanning. There’s an alternative to time-consuming in-house scanning: the lockbox approach, a service offered by banks, which can process and scan checks and EOBs on your behalf and then provide you with electronic access to the scanned documents.



  • Consider an on-demand document management system. Ease of use, quick implementation, frequent upgrades, scalability, and low cost are all reasons to adopt an on-demand document management system. Rather than a customized solution built just for your practice, the core software for an on-demand document management system is maintained remotely, accessible by all companies using the service; any customizations necessary to your practice reside locally.



  • Switch to automated appointment reminder tools to greatly enhance your practice’s daily operations by further freeing up staff time for patient care and other higher-priority services.



  • Give your providers a PDA charge-capture tool during rounds to reduce the lag time between service delivery and charge posting. Ask your practice management system vendor if it offers interfaced solutions for automated reminders and charge capture.



  • Tap into the power of the Web. Give your nurses access to the Internet, and tell them to order medical and office supplies online to minimize the time they now spend schmoozing with sales representatives. Use the Internet to schedule pharmaceutical rep visits based on your schedule, and teach your staffers useful shortcuts, such as looking up patient addresses with Web-based reverse phone number search engines.

Bottom line: Increasing your practice’s operational efficiency doesn’t automatically mean mortgaging your office to afford the newest technologies. Use what you have, and invest in staff training. Be glad if you must purchase additional PCs to support new functionalities, especially if your staff members are battling for computer time - that’s a true measure of how much they’ve adopted technological shortcuts to sharpen their efficiency.


Rosemarie Nelson is a well-known healthcare technology guru and principal with the Medical Group Management Association’s Health Care Consulting Group. She can be reached via editor@physicianspractice.com.

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