Office Technology Solutions for Physician Practices

May 25, 2016
Joe Capko

Concerns about additional cost can hold practices back from adopting front-office technology, even though the rewards can more than offset the expense.

Considering that your front-office staff's performance is critical to both patient service and practice profitability, it's in your best interest to periodically review the newest tools that can help them perform their job as effectively as possible. While many technologies are available to help your team, a recent MedData Group/Capko & Morgan physician survey indicates that these tools remain tremendously underutilized.

Among the most notable findings is that familiarity with front-office tools remains very low among physicians, even though some of these solutions have been available for a decade or more. Practices aren't failing to adopt these technologies because the solutions aren't well developed, but rather, the solutions aren't even being considered.

In our consulting work, we've seen how much benefit these solutions can offer practices. It's a shame more practices aren't trying them - especially because many can be inexpensive and surprisingly easy to implement.

Sometimes, concerns about additional expenditures hold practices back from exploring new opportunities in technology (especially in the front office). But many of these systems can play an important role in improving your bottom line and turning a negative situation around. One easy example: Implementing a new text/email reminder system can reduce your no-show rate by four patients a day, which can mean recovering $100,000 in revenue per year, with little or no additional staff effort. Since patients are coming to expect services like text or email reminders as standard conveniences, you'll improve your image as well as your no-show rate.

Among our favorite productivity and revenue boosters are tools that empower patients to check-in, fill out demographic information, and pay their bill without relying on your staff - which patients typically prefer. Information makes it into your systems with fewer errors, and your staff is freed from time-consuming and tedious data entry. There are a wide variety of solutions, so it's likely that, with a little research, tools that integrate with your existing practice management system (PMS) and EHR system can be found. At Capko & Morgan, we like to see someone in the front office take the lead in evaluating these systems; which provides job enrichment and also leverages staffs' deeper understanding of the issues they face daily.

An easy place to start is to look more closely at the features of your practice management system. It's very common for practices to implement core functionality initially, with the intention of revisiting a more robust implementation sometime down the line. If you haven't revisited your system's capabilities, you could be leaving powerful, fully-integrated features untapped.

Even a modest investment in time can sometimes enable a feature that will pay off every day for your practice and your patients. As a powerful illustration, we've recently seen two different practices spend a single afternoon to enable online payments in their practice management systems - a feature they didn't realize was already available to them. They were thrilled to see payments received when they arrived at the office the very next morning!

Here are some of the top front-office technology solutions every practice should invest in:

Problem area #1

No shows - these are tremendously costly and many practices don't have an accurate assessment of how many occur (e.g., when last minute cancelations are simply rescheduled and don't show up in no-show reports).

Solution #1

Reminder systems - systems using a mix of email, text messaging, and phone calls, so that patients can be contacted in their preferred manner; avoiding a common problem of reminders left on voicemail that is seldom checked. These are often integrated with the PMS or EHR - practices should consult vendors about availability.

Problem area #2

Patient collections - with patients directly responsible for an ever-greater portion of healthcare costs, practices need powerful tools to collect. Staff is also tasked with the complex, time-consuming step of patient education on insurance terminology and new cost sharing.

Solution #2

Cost estimators/benefit verification systems - several types of products have been developed to address this pressing need. Real-time eligibility verification is increasingly included in practice management software. Cost estimation tools typically are add-ons, but often can share data with the PMS.

Problem area #3

Payment plans -patients who can't pay in-full immediately appreciate the opportunity to pay over time, but without technology support, HIPAA may be an issue and staff time may be wasted on repeatedly contacting patients.

Solution #3

Credit card on file/online payments - staff can use payment card industry (PCI) compliant functionality that is increasingly included in practice management software for scheduled charges to a patient's credit card. Data shows consumers increasingly prefer to pay online for outstanding or recurring patient balances. Email statements with a link to a payment portal are often part of PMS or EHR systems, and are easy, even free, to implement.

Problem area #4

Front-desk paperwork - demographic forms and other documents require time-consuming data entry, potentially introducing errors into the patient record and billing systems.

Solution #4

Check-in tablets and kiosks - A number of systems allow patients to seamlessly check-in, pay their financial responsibility (after the system automatically verifies health plan coverage), and enter demographic information directly into the practice's PMS and EHR systems.