Optimizing Practice Tech: Must Haves and Nice to Haves

February 2, 2016

By: Steph Weber Technology is poised to play an increasingly pivotal role in the future delivery of healthcare. Here’s the right tech to invest in.

EHR implementation has been a huge undertaking, but perhaps even more important is optimizing it, along with other technology, to meet your practice’s unique needs. Harnessing the power of technology offers an unprecedented opportunity for the efficient and transparent delivery of healthcare services.

Here are the technologies worth investing in and why optimization is key.      

After EHR implementation

Once you’ve implemented the EHR, the real work begins. “Identify how maximizing the use of an EHR can reduce workload for staff and improve patient care,” said Jodie Boxe, vice president of marketing and operations at Iris International Consulting, a global consulting firm based in Chicago. “Doing so will motivate [you] and serve as a goal for optimizing your [practice].”

When it comes to finding complementary EHR applications, the vast amount of options available can make for a daunting decision. Creating a technology roadmap can be beneficial, but only after investigating the market first. “Get a grasp of the trends and determine how your practice will respond,” said Mark Belanger, director of advisory services for the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative, a non-profit organization seeking to improve healthcare delivery through the adoption of health information technology.

Belanger points to shifting governmental policies as one of the reasons to focus on optimization. “Technology is still a pillar of the CMS agenda for payment, but the federal government lever for encouraging health IT adoption appears to be shifting away from the highly prescriptive meaningful use program and toward merit-based incentives,” he said.

Must have technologies

Certain applications can be instrumental to any practice, regardless of specialty.

Belanger suggests all practices have applications capable of handling the four following tasks: practice management, exchange of medical records with other healthcare organizations, calculation and reporting of clinical quality measures, and communication with patients. Some EHR vendors include these applications out-of-the-box, while others require add-on software.  

Regardless of your EHR, a code scrubber is instrumental in obtaining timely and accurate reimbursement. “This is the number one technology to utilize to ensure claims are validated against the latest regulations and requirements,” said Boxe. It’s a money-saver too, as claims resubmission can be a costly process.

Integrated credit card readers allow for efficient payment and checkout. Nathan Prystowsky, director of vendor governance for New York-based dermatologist, Janet H. Prystowsky, explains how this works. “We have a card reader attached to our EHR that populates the data inside the patient’s profile,” he said. “This enables us to generate receipts and account for billing more quickly.”

As the dependence on electronic information grows, the need for adequate data protection does too. “[I recommend] investing in an offsite back up appliance and an uninterrupted power supply,” said Prystowsky. “Both of these devices protect the important medical data from getting lost by inadvertent mistakes or uncontrollable mishaps.”

Nice to have technologies

If you have the bandwidth, these technologies may help optimize your practice even further. They are not necessary, like the technologies mentioned above.

Since so much is handled online or via “the cloud,” having a powerful Wi-Fi signal prevents hiccups in workflows. “[EHRs] rely on a type of encryption technology that limits access to one user at a time to preserve an audit trail,” said Prystowsky. “This sometimes makes wireless integration tricky because the [EHR] has difficulty during normal momentary drops in the Wi-Fi signal.” Choosing an industrial-strength wireless router that is designed to handle heavy data streaming can remedy this issue.  

Requiring an investment of time instead of capital, Belanger encourages physicians to keep a pulse on healthcare devices and apps gaining popularity among patients. The records generated by Fitbits or apps like Map My Run can initiate more open conversations and increase patient engagement.

Budget considerations

As always, budgetary considerations are top of mind. This is where collaboration with your EHR vendor may prove helpful.

“Developing a good relationship with your EHR provider [permits] access to developing technologies and [allows] your practice to have input on their final form,” said Prystowsky. For example, he has tested an e-prescribing application and is looking forward to implementation once it gains government approval.

Talking with other providers to see what has and hasn’t worked for them is wise. Boxe recommends physicians visit user forums, often sponsored by the software vendor, as well as take advantage of informational videos on YouTube.

In terms of financial resources, tax deductions are available. “Section 179 allows practice owners to write-off up to half a million dollars of software and new and used equipment [in 2016],” said Boxe.

Some states still provide financial assistance. In Massachusetts, grants are available to post-acute and behavioral health providers. Yet other organizations and non-profits may offer technical assistance at reduced rates.   

Investing in the future

Coming on the heels of EHR implementation, optimization may seem like an overwhelming endeavor for a small practice. Investment now has the potential to pay off in spades though. “In the future, technology investment offsets will likely be replaced with payer incentives that are aligned with use of healthcare technology for better patient outcomes and reduced administrative waste,” said Belanger. “Providers who are making investments to modernize their practices are the ones positioned to maximize payment in the new value-based purchasing contracts.”

Steph Weber is a freelance writer hailing from the Midwest. She writes about healthcare, finance, and small business, but finds her passion for the medical field growing in sync with the ever-changing healthcare laws.