Integrating Technology in a Practice's Strategic Plan in 7 Steps

December 13, 2017
Stephen McCallister, CPHIT

Strategically planning IT investment and implementation is important for any small-to-mid-sized practice.

The only constants in healthcare these days appear to be change and uncertainty.  Additionally, with technology at the heart of workflow in most practices, your wagon is  hitched to the dizzying pace of technological change.  Just consider that devices such as smart watches and tablets didn't exist a decade ago, and the flood of apps and connected devices are remaking medicine as much as everyday life. At best, this level of change makes strategic planning difficult. At worst, it can make strategic planning seem pointless. 

But plan we must.

However formal or informal your strategic planning process, information technology should have a voice in it.  For one thing, IT in healthcare has been a rapidly growing part of most practices' budget.  IT is also disruptive, changing both the daily workflow and offering potent innovations for healthcare overall.  Therefore, it's important to integrate IT in your planning. This is not to predict the future, but rather to help you build it. 

A large organization will likely have a technology strategic plan, a document which is related to, but separate from the organization's strategic plan.  This accommodates additional detail, but it also has a potential for disengaging the integration of technology from the overall business strategy.  This risks crafting goals focused on technology, rather than how technology can provide value for the organization's priorities.  

Ironically, one of the "luxuries" of a small- to medium-sized practice is that it's easier to assemble an integrated team, which can be more effective in developing a strategic plan for the practice.  You may not have the resources - or many of the problems - of a large practice or hospital.  However, having a representative group of stakeholders working on an integrated strategy is easier in a small to medium-sized practice.  

Here are a few tips and pitfalls to get you started:

1. The power is in the process: Strategic planning is about the direction and goals that will help your practice move forward.  No one person will have all the answers.  Indeed, the "answers" will have the best chance to emerge through dialog among those with varying perspectives and expertise in your practice, including technology.  Be sure to craft a process that makes choices and sets clear priorities, not just compiling a list of what everyone was going to do next year anyway.    

2. Get an IT voice at the table: In the best of all worlds, you have an IT person or department who knows the practice and can be a great resource on how to leverage your technology investment for potential solutions to your most challenging problems.  A broad knowledge of the IT industry is likely to yield technical solutions you may not be aware of.  If you don't have that kind of expertise, then seek the advice of a consultant or other subject matter expert who can work with your team.

3. Assign homework:  Ask your technology subject matter expert to provide input and data to your planning process, assessing both internal and external factors.  A tool such as a SWOT analysis can be useful to identify information from IT on the external environment, including both technological trends and opportunities.  Incorporating information such as your most recent HIPAA Security Risk Analysis will give an accurate assessment of both internal strengths and weaknesses.   

4. Bring on the data: Your IT expert can provide data that goes beyond what's in your monthly financials and reports.  Ask for it. Unlock the data in your EHR, practice management system, and other sources to help you in your strategy selection.  And be sure to note if you can't get the data you need - that in and of itself may be a valuable planning insight.

5. Don't chase technology trends: Chase business needs and value.  Avoid "Shiny Object Syndrome." This should go without saying, but in the real world, you'll likely need to remind yourself of this regularly.  Telemedicine, for example, is a sexy technology, but that doesn't make it a priority.  Using telemedicine to mitigate rural provider shortages and increase access for patients IS a reason to consider making it a strategic priority. 

6. Find a good match: Look for technological solutions that match your practice's management style, whether you embrace the bleeding edge or are looking for proven, "ready to run" technologies.  Look not only about technology, but also about the skills and culture in your practice. 

7. Don’t forget your people in the process: If you ask most clinicians about your EHR and IT systems, you may hear a lot of dissatisfaction.  After all, the name of the game with technology is change - and as we all know, change is hard.  Something as simple as a survey using a tool like Survey Monkey can surface this and help to ensure that these issues aren't papered over.  But the bottom line here is that implementing your plan will inevitably involve people and technology, to succeed you will need to include both.

Finally, integrating IT is a great way to educate your IT staff about your practice.  In a world where people too often work in their own silos, that alone can be a huge asset.

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