Consolidating Technology as Part of a Practice Merger

June 12, 2015
Richard Best

While EHRs are important to analyze in any merger, don't forget to assess and formulate a strategy for your compliance technology as well.

As the healthcare industry moves toward value-based care, smaller physician practices, larger group practices, health systems, and independent delivery networks  are continuing to consolidate. This process works to help organizations eliminate redundancies, reduce risk, and foster more collaborative care. In fact, according to a recent KPMG study, 84 percent of surveyed mergers and acquisitions (M&A) professionals identified healthcare as the most active M&A industry for 2015, showing this trend will only grow throughout this year.

The process of joining two distinct healthcare entities is typically complex, as organizations must try to combine and consolidate clinical, administrative, and financial operations. One task often at the top of the "to-do" list is reviewing the technology systems used across the enterprise in order to determine how to leverage technology going forward. Will they continue to use disparate systems? Will they seek to integrate their existing solutions? Will they pursue whole different systems?

Most organizations prioritize this kind of review for their EHR and practice management solutions; however, it is essential to look beyond these "usual technology players". As part of the first wave of technology analysis, merging entities should carefully consider how they plan to address compliance technology - including OSHA and HIPAA solutions or regulated medical waste disposal processes - to safeguard patients, staff, visitors, and the healthcare organization as a whole. Without this type of review, an organization may put itself at risk, ultimately impacting the success of a potential merger.

Why It's Important to Review Compliance Technology

At first glance, making a concerted effort to assess compliance technology may not seem like a top priority for organizations working through a merger. However, there are tangible benefits to establishing a cohesive compliance support system upfront in the partnership.                                                              

First and foremost, leveraging a single, or well-integrated set, of compliance tools can promote standardization, encouraging constant adherence to best practices throughout both the smaller practice and the rest of the associated enterprise. This, in turn, can limit potential risks. Consistent compliance technology across all settings of an enterprise, from the practices to the hospitals, ensures an organization reliably follows rules and regulations. This not only prevents fines and penalties, but also enhances patient safety and security. For example, if OSHA technology is the same throughout an entire health system, the organization can be confident that all staff members, regardless of setting, understand their role in keeping the environment safe, such as when to wear personal protective equipment or how to properly dispose of medical waste to prevent the spread of infection. When staff regularly abides by OSHA regulations, they create an environment conducive to safe patient care, enabling physicians to focus on providing top-notch care to patients.

In addition to reducing risk, standardizing compliance efforts can have patient satisfaction benefits as well, as the uniformity across settings communicates that the organization values a consistent and best practice-driven approach to safety and security. For example, if an organization has one solution that provides HIPAA education to all its staff members, the organization can be sure that everywhere a patient enters the system - hospital, physician practice, urgent care center, and so on - he or she will be treated the same way and his or her information will be preserved using the same methods. This can give patients more confidence in the organization and help the merged entity protect its reputation as it grows, which can have a positive impact on patient retention and revenue.

Things to Look for When Formulating a Technology Strategy

As previously mentioned, a key aspect in reviewing technology involves determining whether physician practices and hospitals will continue to use disparate systems or whether integration is possible and preferable.

Here are a few questions to ask when making this decision to ensure the ultimate choice best fits with the entire organization's requirements.

• Does a solution meet the compliance needs of all parties?
For example, if a physician practice is merging with a hospital, does the solution meet both physician and hospital requirements? Similarly, if a smaller physician practice is joining with a larger one, are the nuances of both entities addressed? If the answer is no, then the organization should consider whether it should seek an alternative product that meets both need sets or whether it should keep separate technology in place. If the answer is yes, the organization should think about how best to implement the technology across various settings. This may involve pulling together an implementation team with representation from all parties to foster a more collaborative onboarding approach to ensure a smooth transition.

• Does the solution offer the necessary depth and breadth of experience?
All compliance tools are not created equally, so organizations must fully vet a solution's capabilities when considering whether to keep an existing product or pursue another one. In particular, organizations should check the level of expert support the technology offers, assessing how easy it is for staff to get questions answered. For example, navigating OSHA compliance is a complex endeavor. Not only should an OSHA tool provide clear guidance on how to meet federal regulations, but it should also have defined pathways for addressing unique issues. So, if a staff member has a question, he should be able to easily reach out to experts at the vendor to get the question answered, with a response arriving in a timely fashion.

• Is the compliance software easy to use?
Organizations should be especially sensitive to a tool's usability because more people will be interacting with the technology once the merger is complete, and some of these individuals may have very little, if any, experience with automated solutions. A product's ease-of-use will directly correlate to adoption, and compliance technology is only as beneficial as your staff's willingness to reliably and correctly use it. If an organization has to choose between two products, and one has 24-hour customer service, easy-to-navigate pages, robust reporting, and streamlined compliance checklists, then the organization may want to select that tool over one that is not as user-friendly.

An Ounce of Prevention

As organizations continue to consolidate, they should commit time to reviewing compliance tools as part of a larger technology review, mapping out a forward strategy that includes quality compliance technology and support for all settings within the enterprise. By taking a concerted approach, organizations can ensure they remain compliant, promote standardization, and reliably support safety and security initiatives throughout all care settings - proactively mitigating risks while elevating quality.

Richard Best is the technical director and corporate director for OSHA compliance at Stericycle, Inc. He can be contacted at RBest@Stericycle.com.