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Tech Upgrades Pay Off for Small Practices


While upgrading your technology may cost you, it will pay off in the long run, according to recent research efforts.

Next-generation medical practice management solutions have arrived in full force. For practices of all sizes and across all areas of specialization, the benefits are numerous.

These software solutions can optimize process workflow and resource management and streamline operations and enhance revenue cycle management. Some have automated task management functions. Others include advanced scheduling capabilities that optimize the utilization of staff, rooms, and equipment. Some have cutting-edge information storage and retrieval technologies. Others come with data analysis tools for generating insights into claims data, payment activity and reimbursement patterns.

Many software programs offer seamless integration with EHRs, public registries and decision support databases. Most are designed to maintain compliance with government regulations and healthcare mandates.

Of course, they all support ICD-10, which, as every beleaguered office manager knows all too well, has brought sweeping changes to medical coding and compliance processes. Most also now support anytime, anywhere data access enabled by mobility and cloud-based deployment.

No two practice management software applications are exactly alike. Front- and back-office features can vary in fundamental ways. So, too, can the requirements and priorities of individual practices. Matching the right practice to the right solution generally requires research, knowledge, and patience.

But, done right, the effort can pay off in spades. In fact, according to new research from IT market research firm Starfleet Research, with underwriting support from AdvancedMD, Allscripts, CareCloud, GE Healthcare and RxNT, 68 percent of small practices, and 76 percent of medium-size and large practices, report that they have achieved “significant” or “dramatic” business improvement after implementing next-generation software.

Another benefit that's typical of the newer technologies include built-in analytics and visualization tools that can chart trends in reimbursement patterns and patient subgroup behavior. The insights may point to a host of new revenue and cost reduction opportunities.

Importantly, next-generation solutions can lessen the time needed to store and access medical charts, reduce (or completely eliminate) transcription costs, and improve documentation for highly compensated codes. The technology can also improve process efficiency while giving managers greater operations visibility.

Making information more easily accessible and reducing errors, invariably results in increased employee satisfaction as well as improved patient care quality.

According to the research, almost one-quarter (21 percent) of medical practices that have not purchased a next-generation software within the past three years plan to do so in the next 12 months. While the buying considerations can vary widely, most practices have many of the same basic needs, regardless of size and area of specialization.

Consider the need to optimize collections activities. This used to be a nominal focus area relative to insurance claims processing. However, this was before the proliferation of high-deductible insurance plans, such as those commonly offered through the health insurance exchanges. With patients responsible for a larger share of the healthcare bill, there is greater focus today on features that facilitate efficient and effective collections activities.

Every medical practice wants a solution that is sufficiently robust and meets today’s regulatory mandates. They also want it to integrate properly with their practice’s existing technologies, data sources, processes, and workflow.

At the same time, every practice is thinking long-term. Deploying software that is well-equipped to handle the latest code set changes but ill-equipped to accommodate future regulatory changes may not be a wise decision. Without an upgradable system, future change requirements will invariably result in significant billing and collections challenges along with a slew of administrative headaches. 

Ultimately, next-generation technology should help ensure that all facets of the practice run like a well-oiled machine - streamlining workflow, improving information access, enhancing patient healthcare quality, and driving better financial outcomes. Without the right software application, it becomes virtually impossible to run a modern-day practice in an efficient and effective manner.

To that point, every existing practice already has technology of one kind or another in place.  The question is whether the current solution is delivering optimal results.

Does it offer advanced features and functionality, including seamless integration with other key technologies currently in use? Does it enable the practice to track the health outcomes of patients and maintain compliance with ever-changing government regulations and industry standards?

If the answer is “no,” then it may be time to switch to a next-generation software application. The cost can be significant and the transition may not be without some bumps in the road. But, as the new research strongly suggests, a practice that upgrades its technology capabilities is not likely to regret its decision.

Jeff Zabin is research director at Starfleet Research, a market research firm that benchmarks best practices in technology-enabled business initiatives, including ones related to healthcare IT. A bestselling business author and leading industry analyst, he previously served as research director at Gleanster and research fellow at Aberdeen Group.


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