Are You Maximizing the Benefits of Medical Practice Technology?

February 20, 2017


by Laurie Morgan, partner and consultant, Capko & Morgan

The world of medical practice management in recent years has been subject to frequent change – on the regulatory front, especially; but technology innovation on both the clinical side and administration has been brisk, too. It can be a challenge to keep up with all of the opportunities and choose the initiatives that will be most helpful.

For some practices, the deluge of new options causes valuable innovations to slip through the cracks. For example, EHR and practice management system (PMS) vendors frequently roll out new features. In fact, the stream of release notes and alerts can be so constant that the people receiving them just don’t have time to read them all. It’s easy for useful features to be lost in that email noise.

This can be a bit of a tragedy when practices don’t realize that they already have the capability to better automate tasks without adding software or spending more money. Payment portals, waiting lists, eligibility checking, secure credit card storage, and online scheduling are all examples of very useful tools that many vendors have added, but that some practices don’t realize they can start using immediately (often at no additional cost).

The upside potential of these features can be considerable. Capko & Morgan recently worked with a practice that struggled with the common challenge of collecting patient balances. The practice had assigned an employee to call patients to try to collect, but those phone calls rarely connected with a person. On the rare occasions the patient answered, the conversations would often become adversarial, despite the employee’s best effort to keep them positive.

When the practice learned they had an option to open a payment portal through their EHR platform, and that all they had to do was activate it, the practice’s collection efforts were transformed overnight – literally. Once the portal switch was flipped, the practice found patient credit card payments in their account the very next morning.

This is a scenario we’ve seen with many of our clients. This practice hadn’t known about the portal because the information was buried in the hundreds of emails they’d received from the vendor. And they didn’t think to ask about it, because they (incorrectly) assumed that there would be a high cost associated with the payment portal and that it would be difficult to implement.

Information overload and assumptions about costs sometimes cause practices to put off trying new options on the clinical side, too. For example, practices might delay adoption of point-of-care diagnostic tests because they’re concerned about reimbursement or space for equipment, even though those concerns might actually be unfounded. Or evaluating new options might be delayed simply because no one has had time to learn why a new way of doing something could be more effective or efficient.

The fix: Is someone on your team ready to help?

With the pace of work inside practices, considering every new option that comes across the threshold can be an unreasonable burden for an administrator or managing partner to handle alone. But there are often people on staff who would be excited to take on a more significant role – or to be recognized for work they’re already doing.

For example, it’s common in many practices for an EHR expert to emerge among the nursing staff – that person who becomes much more fluent in the system’s capabilities, and learns the system faster than anyone else, simply because she’s interested in, or has a knack for, systems. Usually, even though everyone goes to this person for help, she’s not recognized “officially” for this role. Formally acknowledging this contribution through a title change and adjustment of job description can boost that employee’s morale. The EHR specialist could also be the perfect person to assume responsibility for staying on top of new system options and briefing the leadership team on ones that seem important to adopt.

Creating these opportunities for employees to learn, grow, and expand their resumes can help practices retain valued staff. What’s more, whether these specialists are tasked with considering new tech features, pre-screening new tests or supplies, or analyzing new reimbursement options, their growth opportunities can also help reduce the burden on leadership – and that helps ensure their practices don’t miss out on beneficial innovations because managers and physicians are too busy.

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