Technology Consult

April 8, 2005

IT skills every office manager needs

"There are still a lot of small medical practices in which the office manager isn't computer literate," says FP David Kibbe, director of the Center for Health Information Technology at the American Academy of Family Physicians. "That's a real barrier to EHR adoption."

So what comprises a minimal IT skill set for this position? We interviewed consultants, computer-savvy doctors, and office managers themselves to find out.

Mastery of medical software. Because of inadequate training or sheer complacency, too many office managers don't make practice management software do all the tricks it's capable of, experts say. They can't generate accounts receivable reports broken down by payer or customize appointment slots. You want an office manager who gets your money's worth out of an IT investment.

Fearless curiosity. A good office manager isn't afraid to dig into a manual or get on the phone with a software vendor's technical person. And he or she is willing and eager to attend user conferences to stay current.

Ability to do the chores. Laura Prine, the office manager for general surgeon Miroslaw Foltyniak in Kendallville, IN, backs up her practice's data everyday on a CD. It's one example of IT housekeeping that comes with her job. Other chores you'd expect an office manager to handle: Adding a user to the network, installing a new printer, and downloading Windows Critical Updates to protect a system from security threats.

Troubleshooting. Your office manager should also be able to solve low-level problems without calling in the experts. Simply rebooting a PC can miraculously cure a software malfunction. Turning a power switch on and off could revive a dead printer. If that doesn't work, your office manager should know how to access a different printer on the network.

In more-challenging situations, the ideal office manager knows whom to phone for outside help. That means sniffing out the source of glitches. "Let's say you have trouble using your EHR on a wireless tablet, and the application and data files reside on the server," says FP Randall Oates of Springdale, AR, president and CEO of DOCS Inc., which sells the EHR program called SOAPware. "You could try to access data from another program on the server. If you can't, you have a network problem, which could be anything from the router to the operating system. Otherwise, you have a problem with the EHR software itself, which may require calling the vendor."

If you're prospecting for a new office manager, scope out each candidate's IT skills with some simple tests. Ask each person to send e-mail with an attachment, compose a letter with the word-processing program, create a spreadsheet using practice data, and then create a table or graph for a report. Finally, have her back up data on a Zip drive.

You should seek out applicants who have been trained on your current practice management or EHR software, or what you plan to buy in the near future. However, it pays to ask about their personal computing, too, says healthcare computer consultant Rosemarie Nelson in Syracuse. "What people do at home is very revealing," she says. "If a job applicant says that she has two PCs, and they're networked, you know she's a pretty sophisticated user."