Bundling data services saves time, money for primary care physicians

September 25, 2013

Very few things will frustrate a medical practice owner or administrator more than the sight of outside vendors blaming each other for a technical problem the practice is experiencing.

 

Derek Kosiorek, CPEHR, CPHIT

For example, say one of your remote locations loses access to the practice’s electronic health record (EHR) system. You call the EHR vendor. The vendor blames the server and tell you there’s nothing they can do. So you call the server support people and they blame the data lines; there’s nothing they can do. And you know what’s coming next - a call to the data line people. Nope, it’s not their problem either, because they blame the server. And so the circle of blame begins.

Not that you care whose problem it is, of course. You just need it fixed.

One way to reduce the problem of buck passing to reduce the number of vendors you use. Consolidating vendor contracts can save time and headaches when you need a problem solved quickly, because you need call only one person to solve it.

To achieve vendor reduction, medical practices are adopting the bundled services concept, under which a vendor sells multiple products or services in a package for a single, reduced price. Bundling services is often used by cable companies to persuade consumers to purchase Internet, cable television, and telephone services together.

To a medical practice, however, bundled services can come in many forms. The most common is using one company for data and phone lines. In fact, most phone service is now run over data lines anyway. Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) is very common in practices of every size.

As an additional incentive, it is common for telecom companies to offer a favorable introductory rate for their services. This can be for up to 1 year, but with a commitment of multiple years after that. Before signing this type of agreement, however,  look at the total cost over the term of the contract and consider where you will be in 2 to 3 years. Your practice’s growth, or lack of it, will affect the telecom contract and may trigger additional fees.

Most EHR vendors package their practice management (PM) systems into the EHR and offer it at a greatly reduced rate if you bundle them together, often pricing the PM at half off or even offering it free. It is in their interest to sell you multiple products that need their support. However, it’s in your interest to have an integrated system, because of the interfaces, training complexity, and limited functionality that come with patched together software.

Vendors like bundling services because it makes them more money. But higher profits also creates competition, which can benefit your practice. For every company that will bundle a service or product, there are usually three more that do the same thing and willing to negotiate on pricing. Make sure you  do an “apples-to-apples” comparison when deciding among vendors.

Paying a company to keep your servers in a secure offsite location allows your information technology staff to focus on improving how your practice uses technology, rather than spending time on maintaining the systems. Many such companies also partner with local or national businesses to sell server and networking equipment at a discount.

Of course, bundling services and consolidating vendors can cause problems as well. Relying too much on a single vendor is a risk that some practices prefer to avoid. Severing a relationship with a vendor that supports mission-critical data and equipment can be quite painful, and involve significant money, time, and resources.

Make sure that your  contract details the steps involved in recovering your equipment and your data if you ever decide to change vendors. 

 

The author is a principal consultant for MGMA Health Care Consulting group. Send your practice finance questions to medec@advanstar.com

 

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