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Don't underestimate the power of networking
Have you ever attended a user group meeting? When was the last user group meeting you or your staff attended? I've just returned from a PM/EHR (practice management/electronic medical record) user group meeting and was overwhelmed with the energy, sharing, networking, and real learning that I witnessed over two full days.
Why don't you attend? Is it the cost? It may seem like a big price tag when you consider registration fees, airfares, hotel rates, and onsite transportation and meals, but the return on that investment can be huge.
Let's start with your original investment - what was the acquisition cost for your system? Just as putting a new roof on your house adds to your home's value, attending the annual user conference is a re-investment in that original purchase that will extend the usability of your system, making it more valuable to your practice.
For example, in one of the breakout sessions, you would have identified the critical metrics you need to keep your finger on the pulse of your business, and (here's where the value of the meeting plays out) how to produce those metrics using your PM/EHR system. In another session, the presenter demonstrated how to identify and correct problems to improve your billing process flow, using the PM/EHR system. Is everything billed out perfectly the first time in your practice, and remittances sent back to you within two weeks? Imagine if you or your staff learned how to make that happen!
There was a session led by physicians and dedicated to physicians that included a discussion format focused on methods physicians can use to enhance their personal work flow with the EHR. If one of those tips or tricks resulted in you seeing one more patient each day, what would that be worth? Let's calculate an estimate:
• One more patient each day with an average reimbursement = $65
• 4 days/week
• 46 weeks/year
• 4 x 46 x $65 = $11,960 a year
Several of the sessions addressed the technology infrastructure. In a session on wireless networks, participants contributed many helpful suggestions as audience members raised individual issues. It was a room of 100 expert assistants! That doesn't happen when you call a vendor help desk or log a ticket request.
Getting the most out of a user group is all about interaction with the vendors' staff and other users. As I walked through hallways and into conference rooms, I continually witnessed users greeting each other with big smiles, hearty handshakes, and friendly hugs. It dawned on me that these people are genuinely happy to sit at the table with each other, both users and vendor representatives, to learn about needs, solutions, and to engage in a dialog.
That means you need to be sure you have the right people from your practice attending the meeting. Get users to the meeting, not the tech support staff. User group meetings are about doctors and nurses and project managers, and less about IT staff. If you can only send one person, choose an end-user provider or nurse. Your IT staff has the wherewithal to get on the Web or phone and dig for the information needed for your infrastructure. Your end-users are often too caught up in the flow of seeing patients to get online or drive through help menus or call support, so they have a tremendous amount to gain by being out of the daily flow of patient care and participating with their peers.
By the time I made it into the giant ballroom called the "Hands On" room, I was already impressed with the quantity and quality of interactions. What I saw in that room was a buzz of activity, fingers pointing at screens, keying on keyboards, and clicking the mouse. It was loud and energetic and enthusiastic and full! The room had literally hundreds of workstations and it personified active learning. If you had a question how something worked, you'd get the answer. If you wanted to see how another user deployed a specific feature, you'd find out from a user directly. If you wanted help with some set-up issue in your system, you'd get it on the spot. Wow!
People exchanged business cards and I had the sense these were contacts that were going to be e-mailing and talking and solving mysteries over the coming year. And, next year, when they run into each other in the hallway at the next user conference, there will be handshakes and hugs and smiles all around, because these people know the value of a good user group meeting.
Rosemarie Nelson is a principal with the MGMA healthcare consulting group. She conducts educational seminars and provides keynote speeches on a variety of healthcare-technology and operational topics. Drawing upon her diverse experience, Nelson provides practical solutions to help medical groups succeed in their practices. She may be reached at www.mgma.com/consulting/nelson.