The Bigger Picture: Tech Right

December 15, 2007

The tech you want may not be the tech you need


My husband is a tech-head. We have gone through three different types of MP3 players, we run our phone lines over the Internet, and he really, really wants a GPS system in our car, even though we’ve lived in Denver for 12 years, and it’s highly unlikely we’d ever get lost.

Some of the IT that’s found its way into my home - like my iPod - has enhanced my life. My plodding jog becomes a near run when I listen to the hip-hop playlist my 14-year-old niece suggested. But other gadgets, like the Internet phone my husband had to have, just bug me. The static and delays it causes aren’t worth the cost savings or gee-whiz factor.

Not every technology is right for every person - nor for every business.

So we’ve devoted this guide to helping you determine which technologies will work for your practice in the real world - not in some utopian scenario in which all providers are using interoperable EMRs, and everyone’s employees use the latest tools on their PCs to interact seamlessly with patients.

Our lead story, “Smart Deals on High-Tech Healthcare,” enumerates surprisingly low-cost tech solutions that can pay off in spades by helping your staff streamline the everyday processes that can quickly overwhelm your office. After all, not every practice is ready for a top-of-the-line EMR. Many practices could benefit just as much by simply upgrading their billing systems.

If that thought makes you break out into a cold sweat, peruse our article on how to best transition from the dinosaur billing software your staff may currently use. “Transitions” teaches you how to make the switch to an up-to-date model your staff will ultimately thank you for without losing your precious financial data.

And while you’re at it, evaluate the other technologies your practice currently depends upon. Are you making the most of what you have? Most practices already use some IT on a daily basis. The key to enhancing your bottom line may simply be using or more fully exploring the capabilities of what’s in your office now.

When you ask employees to run reports, do they regularly reply, “Our system doesn’t do that”? Perhaps, but it’s worth double-checking. Ask if anyone can locate the user manual for your practice management system. Re-examine what’s already at your fingertips by going “Back to Basics.”

If you are in the market for an EMR, planning is everything. Review your current processes to determine your biggest weaknesses. Think hard about your hardware options. “EMR Interface” reminds you that no matter how fancy the software you choose, you know you won’t use it if you’re not comfortable with the PC, laptop, or PDA that allows you to access it.

One practice that came to our attention opted to put PCs in each of its exam rooms to maximize its EMR usage - only to discover after everything was in place that the physicians had no way of knowing which patients were behind which doors. All patient charts were inside the exam rooms, on those sparkling-new PCs.

If you hear more horror stories like this one, perhaps you can avoid repeating others’ mistakes. That’s the idea for “Behind Closed Doors.” It’s full of gory stories about implementations gone bad and the secrets to successful EMR implementation.

Already a tech-head? We wouldn’t leave you out. How about recording your own podcast? See our “Cutting Edge” story to learn how. Or perhaps you want to optimize your EMR to help you tap into pay-for-performance programs, as discussed in “The Tech Doctor.”

And remember that even if you’ve joined the “EMR Club,” and your office is running better than ever, you can never know too much. Most EMRs come with high-level bells and whistles that typical practices - relieved to have survived the implementation process - never bother exploring. Take a look at what you may be missing in “To the Max.”

Finally, please note that hundreds of additional IT articles on these topics and more are available on our Web site. Just click on the “Technology” category on the left. You want it; we got it.

Pamela L. Moore, PhD, is senior editor, practice management, for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at pmoore@physicianspractice.com.