There’s a saying that has floated around the technology industry for the past few years: “Good technology gets out of your way.” It’s not exactly clear where the statement originated, although Google has long subscribed to the idea and used it in media relations. Similarly, though Apple itself does not use the saying, people have pointed to the tech giant’s easy-to-use products as an example of what it means. According to this mentality, a good piece of mass-market technology should act as a catalyst, lowering the energy barrier to accomplish a task. Early adopters may be willing to tolerate extra friction created by a new, imperfect product, but the population at large wants technology that works and makes their lives easier.
Unfortunately, healthcare IT is an industry where progress towards this ideal has been slow. All too many healthtech solutions add rather than reduce frustration and effort. BeckonCall, along with many other healthtech startups, are working to resolve this deficit and give doctors more time to do what’s most important: spending time with their patients. We can’t solve all of the problems you might be facing in your practice when it comes to IT, but we have compiled a few things to consider when you’re looking at adding or changing healthIT solutions at your practice.
Nobody looks for a HealthIT solution that will create more work. And yet, as noted in the intro that is all to often the outcome. Sometimes this is due to limited options in an area where the technology is still being developed. Other times, it is because a product that looks reasonable during initial evaluation presents problems only after extended use of all the detailed features. To mitigate this risk, look for solutions that have low (or no) onboarding fees so you don’t feel forced to stay with a provider due to sunk costs. Additionally, ask around for colleagues and competitors who have used the service. This goes beyond just reading online reviews, although that’s a start. As with any feedback, first person conversations are always best.
This isn’t always possible. For example, EHR platforms are generally functional but not attractive. In general, though, seek out products that not only work well but look good. In fact, those two things often go together. You want something that is easy to install and provides simple or automatic updates. Depending on the service a companion mobile app is ideal. And a modern interface is usually the sign of a company that cares about its product and customers. For example, a mobile app running on iOS should have the ability to sign in using Apple’s TouchID. This is not because it’s necessarily more secure than a PIN, but because it demonstrates that the company is puts effort into keeping up with the software ecosystem and implementing best practices. In other words, it suggests that the company really is trying to make your life easier.
Your vendors must be able to adjust to changes in your practice and those in the regulatory environment. A good example of this is with technology that falls under the new Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) guidelines. The goals of MACRA are to improve patient care and protect patient information, while saving the system money. It touches on reimbursement issues, technology, and many other areas of healthcare. As such, it represents a piece of regulation that will require significant effort to implement and comply with. Compliance for certain rules will require use of a certified EHR. Software to track patient metrics will also be necessary, as will services to improve care team communication. Therefore, both providers and technology companies are working to update their services to keep up with the new rules. Make sure your software providers are on track with all of this. Additionally, MACRA and other legislation take time to fine-tune. As we’ve seen in the past, passing new rules and laws is one thing, figuring out exactly how they change things on a day-to-day level within the healthcare system is another. Therefore, your healthIT solutions must be flexible enough to change with all of the inevitable adjustments to the regulatory environment.
Similarly, technology you use in your office needs to scale with your practice. It should be easy to add new users as you hire providers and staff. Same thing for growing your list of patients. If your practice has multiple physical offices, any IT services should be able to work seamlessly between locations.
Someday we may life in a world where the ideal of interoperability has been realized. Until then, we have to cobble together systems as best we can. When looking at HealthTech solutions, make sure it can integrate with your EHR. This may leave some gaps with other services, or transferring information to other practices, but internal consistency is important for the efficiency of your practice. Here is one area where looking around at startup companies can provide significant value. While we recognize that it may be scary to put your technology needs in the hands of a young company, these organizations are the source of some of the greatest innovation in the industry (we might be a little biased here). HealthIT startups are typically run by people steeped in cutting edge ideas and the latest in software development. Additionally, they’re motivated to be flexible and to work well with existing products. In fact, many startups are building products the purpose of which is to provide integration between EHRs and other services. It’s worth taking the time every year or so to look around at the healthIT ecosystem and see who has something that might fill a need for your practice.
Lastly, remember that the list price is only part of the story. To use a clichéd metaphor, the subscription fee or purchase price for any product is only the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more underwater that will tell you the real value (or cost) of a healthIT solution. Quantifying your team’s emotional satisfaction is difficult, but that’s certainly a consideration. The happier people are, the more motivated and efficient they will be. Increased efficiency means more time for other (potentially revenue-generating) tasks. Therefore, better IT products mean you can increase profits by reducing hours or increasing revenue (e.g., by seeing more patients.) Is a few extra dollars a month worth a more streamlined office? Ask that question next time you or anyone else responds to a service provider’s quote with, “but that’s a lot of money.” For more on increasing profits, see our post from last week.
All of these ideas go back to the principle that good technology should get out of your way. If your office manager spends hours on the phone with customer support troubleshooting, that solution is not “out of your way.” If you have to make changes every time your practice adds an employee, the software is not “out of your way.” If a service can’t talk to your EHR, well, you get the idea. Dig deeper to ensure you’re picking healthtech solutions that push your practice towards better care and higher revenue, not more grey hair and added cost.
What do you think? If you have suggestions for other tips to choose a HealthIT solution, or if you have a story to tell from your practice, leave a comment below.