Don’t buy until you try: How to tell whether the ‘next big thing’ is right for your practice
Staying up-to-date is important for any medical practice, but it’s not practical to constantly buy and implement the latest and greatest technology. Practices need to know what will make the biggest impact and offer a significant advantage for patients.
One of the best ways to know whether new technology is the right choice for a practice is to research it, whether it’s asking trusted colleagues for their opinion or reading the literature published about the equipment.
Clifford Gluck, M.D., FCAS, who owns a urology practice in Hingham, Massachusetts, is frequently presented with the “next big thing” in tech. But he has found that most technology is oversold and that sales associates often significantly exaggerate the benefits.
“One has to be very careful about purchasing any kind of technology — especially ones that the patient will pay cash out of their pocket for,” he says. “That’s why it’s important to get the experience of others who have used the technology and to look at the literature to see what there is in terms of scientific evidence.”
Rafael A. Lugo, M.D., a general surgery specialist in The Woodlands, Texas, agrees that not everything new is best.
“It’s a tough decision each practice has to make on a personal level,” he says. “The best method is to evaluate current work flows and then see where the new tech fits in and how it will help the business or improve patient care.”
From there, he notes, consider the return on investment, which ultimately will become a driving force of almost any new technology.
“If we buy new tech just to be modern, then we are wasting the money,” Lugo says. “I think it is important to have clear goals in any expense made for the practice. Overhead is the biggest drain for a practice and if the new tech will not make a difference, then it’s often best to wait.”
Making a decision
Practices should never jump into something quickly, as tech can be expensive and it’s something they may be stuck using for years even if something better comes along.
“Testing the product on a small scale is crucial,” says Ewa Matuszewski, CEO of MedNetOne Health Solutions in Rochester, Michigan. “Purchase one or two licenses or ask the vendor for a testing period. Never purchase group licenses until the user has had the opportunity to see if the product fits the needs of the practice.”
Another great tip is to look at the response time of the customer relations department, she says. If a physician can’t get an issue resolved in a few days and the vendor doesn’t follow up, it may be a good reason to reconsider purchasing the product/licenses.
David Berg, president and co-founder of Redirect Health, notes practices need new technology to stay competitive. This increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the workforce, and it also reduces the cost of hiring new workers to do what the technology can do instead.
When choosing technology, Berg says, “you don’t want to put too much weight on the importance of reviews from other practices unless they are ones you personally know or trust. Building a network that you do trust is an important step for a practice and an effective way to get reliable reviews on new technology you may be considering.”
Attending seminars that demonstrate a new type of technology can be helpful, as well as watching videos about the product and reading the studies that were performed.
“Also important is its ease of use and implementation into practice,” Gluck said. “Is it something that will be covered by health insurance or will patients have to pay for it out of pocket? Will a special protocol have to be implemented in the office? Will assistants need to be trained about how this new technology works? These are important considerations.”
A bad decision
Getting burned by new technology or the companies responsible for servicing them is possible.
“When changes in ownership or priorities with the tech company occur, satisfaction with the cost and/or use of the tech can also change. Getting caught up in a bad contract can jeopardize your practice both financially and technologically,” Berg says. “Sometimes a change in priorities can mean systems you rely on don’t routinely get updated, (but that is) vital for your company to stay up-to-date with patient expectations.”
Securing a good contract that covers any worst-case scenario concerns is extremely important to protecting practices from these situations.
“When you make a decision to purchase new tech, you want to work with the salesperson — your advocate with the tech company — to ensure you always have a contractual out in case things do go south,” Berg says.
Lugo has been burned in the past by buying tech too early and purchasing things that didn’t work as expected.
“One of the most important things I have learned is not to buy until I try,” he says. “You must make sure all questions are answered and instead of letting the salespeople tell you how wonderful the system or technology is, you tell them what you need and ask for a demo on how that will work. Be clear on your needs and expectations from the first conversation.”
After all, it’s easy to be lured by bright colors and fancy gadgetry, but at the end of the day, if the tech was not designed to fit your practice’s needs, it could disrupt your work flow and make things more difficult.
“Technology should be a facilitator and not an obstacle,” Lugo says.
When is it time?
There are some important questions to ask before buying any new technology for the practice: What is their financial model for payment — up front, monthly? What are the conditions of terminating our contract? What are the staffing requirements to get the new tech operational? What type of training will staff need and how long will that take?
Matuszewski cites a popular saying in the industry: “If you’ve seen one practice, you’ve seen one practice.”
“The practice culture, willingness to change and ongoing practice transformation activities vary from practice to practice,” Matuszewski says. “If I had the choice, I would rely on the opinions of physician organizations that review new technology and that are willing and able to test and support the practice needs from planning to implementation and support.”
Lugo points out that what works for one practice may not work for another, so even with strong recommendations, a practice owner needs to consider whether it makes sense for them.
“An important aspect is to ensure compatibility with other systems,” he says. “I would not buy tech that is isolated. I need tech that is malleable and that has the functionality to expand, evolve and collaborate. Health care is moving toward integration of systems, and the new technology must have that flexibility or it will be obsolete in a short period of time.”