Managing Upgrades

June 1, 2005
Steve Rebagliati, MD, MBA

Let me give you some tips on how to make sure your information technology increasees your revenues, decreases your hassle, and frees up your time - without eating your budget in the process. Key to that process is keeping all your systems up to date.

I'm probably the ultimate information technology junkie, at least among my physician colleagues. I don't just buy the latest PDA - I've gone to the trouble of starting a healthcare technology company.

So let me give you some tips on how to make sure your information technology increases your revenues, decreases your hassle, and frees up your time - without eating your budget in the process. Key to that process is keeping all your systems up to date.

Already obsolete

As soon as you buy a computer it's obsolete. Someone is already offering a more powerful, faster, more feature-packed computer or software package.

Some updates are necessities; without current security updates, for example, you risk being ambushed by miscreants who want to invade your systems with viruses, Trojan horses, and other diabolical "malware" designed to ruin your day. So I encourage you to update your virus software daily, and your operating system service packs as often as Microsoft or other vendor tells you. These upgrades are usually free.

But don't be fooled - the IT industry survives partly by offering upgrades and new products, to keep revenues growing. That means they push updates on you, and some of them come at a price - both a retail price and a cost in terms of reduced operating efficiency.

Every time you update your software you add memory-hoarding or processor-intensive features that may make your software look and act cool, but may also grind down your computing efficiency.

The difference between waiting 20 seconds to find that patient file instead of 10 seconds may not seem like much, but consider this: a 10-second delay per chart for a practice that sees four patients an hour per physician, with three physicians on duty, will cost 15 minutes of staff time per day. Still not much, you say. But how many times do you access patient information only once? Assuming you have more than one module in your EMR or practice management system, an update has the potential to cost you an hour of staff time per day.

Add it up over a year and you've burned about $4,000 worth of staff time. Update only when your practice processes require it.  Upgrading desktops

Here's a rule of thumb you can follow about purchasing new desktop computers for your medical group: if your central processor unit (the hard drive, not the monitor, speakers, and other peripherals) costs about $2,000, you're in the right price range for today's cost, performance, and efficiency needs.

Go below $1,500 and your computer will work well with software from two or more years ago, but may be slow as molasses with the number-crunching programs of today.

Spend more than $2,500 - as I have - and about a month later you'll realize that the extra money didn't add performance you really need. If your group has more than one doctor, soon you realize that's another CME trip you wasted.

Jay Abramovitz, president of Software Technology Group, a leading biomedical engineering and software development firm in the Pacific Northwest, gave me some advice to support this point:

"Highest-cost systems set off alarm bells for me. If you want to buy from a high-end vendor like IBM, you don't have to buy their priciest system. Buy their 'second-tier' product, which works just as hard."

In other words, buy from the "mature middle market."


For more information on this subject, check out this Web site: www.infotechfordoctors.com.

 

This article originally appeared in the June 2005 issue of Physicians Practice.