Staying Afloat in Healthcare's Ever-Changing Landscape

June 23, 2017

Small practices can benefit from partnering with an IT partner to fit their needs, here are some tips on choosing that partner.

Simply put, doctors become doctors because they are passionate about helping others and delivering the highest quality patient care. Yet, evolving reimbursement models such as value-based care and changing documentation requirements often force them to choose between spending extra quality time with their patients at the point of care, inputting or exporting patient data from electronic health record systems (EHRs), or other practice management (PM) tools in order to get accurately reimbursed. With only 14 percent of physicians reporting to have the time needed to provide the utmost standards of care, EHRs and other PM tools can often become a hindrance to delivering care without having the right support in place.

To maximize valuable in-person time with patients, practices should consider working with strategic partners who design technology that effectively supports their workflow, rather than detracts from it. When integrated technology streamlines technical and financial aspects of a practice, doctors can focus on providing high quality care rather than entering data and managing complex systems.

Key considerations for smaller-sized practices

An increasing number of physician practices, hospitals and other healthcare organizations are choosing to merge or consolidate in order to survive the shifting landscape. Since 2012, the number of solo practices has actually declined by 32 percent, where only 17 percent of physicians currently remain in a solo practice. Due to changing reimbursement models, rising overhead costs and increasing risk to providers, many practices are forced to reevaluate whether they can remain independent and stay financially sound.

Unfortunately, some technology-including large, robust integrated platforms-is beyond the reach and realistic capabilities for smaller-sized practices because of the capital expenditure it requires not only to purchase, but also to support and manage it. Thus, many smaller practices often rely on inefficient, manual processes or implement technology that doesn't directly address their needs and demands. With a lack of bandwidth and specialized training for these systems, practices simply cannot execute the implementation and sustain the technology without the right partners.

The right strategic partner for your practice

Engaging the right strategic partner with effective technology solutions can help small practices thrive operationally and financially, while maximizing their time with patients. When seeking a strategic partner, providers should keep the following in mind:

Choose a vendor with the right technology: The partner's offerings should have the ability to integrate with other software and existing systems. This is necessary so that information can flow seamlessly throughout the practice, to other stakeholders and to patients. Although it is ideal for core technology to be from the same vendor, this is not always the case, particularly if a practice needs to integrate specialized software from a certain provider.

Ideally, the right technology allows access to meaningful clinical data, so doctors have current and relevant information at the point of care to make informed decisions and deliver the highest quality care in a safe and efficient manner. Likewise, patients also need access to information that is easily understandable and meaningful to them. For instance, ICD-10 codes and Latin medical terms mean nothing to most patients. Instead, information about follow-up appointments and directions for taking new medications should be communicated in a way patients will understand.

Today, patient communication is often facilitated through a portal, so ideally the right strategic partner will have one integrated into its solutions. Portals, conveniently accessible through mobile devices and tablets, help keep patients informed about their health and care plans, and also enable them to easily contact providers when out of the office.

Moreover, technology should be straightforward and intuitive to use-for both providers and patients-to promote user acceptance, buy in, and adoption.

Choose a vendor that aligns with physician success: The right partner should focus on physician success and understand what this means to the practice, both from a clinical and financial standpoint. By streamlining workflows and allowing physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), and other clinicians to provide routine or follow-up care, such as post-op wound checks or flu shots, physicians can concentrate on providing specialized care. A strategic partner should also have a national view of practices so they can learn from and offer tactical insights from other physician groups in order to share best practices for clinical, financial and operational success.

Choose a vendor that offers expertise and ongoing support: Post-technology implementation, a strategic partner should offer continued support and consistent resources, including ongoing training, on-demand education and support centers. Examples of support services, including help desks and one-on-one training, can be used to target a variety of issues, such as changing regulations and government initiatives.

A strategic vendor brings expertise and experience in different practice areas and has dedicated staff to help with revenue, operations, compliance, regulations and other practice management areas. The dedicated staff will advise physicians on integrated solutions that will help the practice be more aware of PM and billing solutions, EHRs and regulatory changes, and how certain systems can work together for improved patient and business outcomes. In addition, they can help physicians navigate payment considerations and benchmark against performance standards, so providers know how they are performing compared to similar practices as well as areas for improvement.

Thrive in an evolving industry

With a finite number of hours in a day and days in a year, it simply makes more sense to let experts in technology, finance and other facets of practice management do what they do best, so doctors can focus on what they do best-providing high quality and effective patient care.

By engaging the right strategic partner and letting their solutions and services take care of business needs, smaller-sized practices can embrace the evolving healthcare environment and successfully stay afloat as the industry continues to change.

Chris Walls is president and CEO of Pulse Inc.