Physicians often succumb to the allure of costly IT products that don’t work with existing systems or that stretch the budget when a lower-tech alternative would work just as well, says John Levinson, MD, Ph.D., a Boston internist and cardiologist with AllCare Medical. Federal mandates that spurred huge spending on electronic health records (EHRs), for example, have been the equivalent of government requiring people to buy cars before gas stations were built, he says.
More than ever, physicians must scrutinize their technology budgets and pare unnecessary cost, putting in the time to find not only the best tech products for their practices, but the best ways to acquire them, Levinson says.
“You have to ask really hard questions of vendors who want to sell and lease you things, because often there are less expensive alternatives with fewer bells and whistles,” he says.
Among the key questions to ask before purchasing technology, experts say, are:
1. Will it simplify workflow?
Practices need to consider how much time any new technology will require from physicians and staff to implement, and balance that with any promised time savings, says Jack Stockert, MD, MBA, managing director of business development for Health2047, a company that develops and funds healthcare startups.
“I’ve seen a lot of waste and ill-advised spending because practices haven’t contemplated how a technology will fit in with the overall workflow” and make daily tasks simpler, Stockert says.
Along the same lines, physicians should think about low-tech ways to access tech upgrades, suggests Elizabeth Woodcock, MBA, FACMPE, an Atlanta-based speaker and trainer who focuses on practice and revenue cycle management.
For example, physicians don’t always ask hospitals to connect to their practices electronically, then the practices lose staff time in getting records faxed to the office and entered into the practice records system, Woodcock says. Often, so much time elapses that billing for transitional care after discharge is impossible, she says.
“A lot of times practices are waiting to hear from the patients themselves what’s going on in the hospital, when they should be saying to the hospital that they need a daily information feed on what’s happening,” she says, particularly as more practices consider adopting the patient-centered medical home model.
Another relatively low-cost way to keep up with technology is to protect what the practice already has, to avoid having to buy new equipment in the first place, says Ira Parghi, LLB, MPP, counsel in healthcare law and an information security committee member at Ropes and Gray in San Francisco.
“A big area of focus is this whole area of patch management, making sure your existing programs are getting regularly released patches, or security upgrades,” Parghi says. Appoint someone to make sure auto-updates are turned on, she says.
2. Can staff work with it?
If a new software program will require a substantial change in the daily duties of staff members, consider whether they have the right skills to make it work, he says.
It might also make more sense to improve overall operational efficiencies in the practice before adding new IT systems, Stockert says.