Make the most of technology during tough economic times

October 15, 2009

In today's economy, it is vital to understand the capabilities of your personal computer hardware so that you can make the most of your practice's technology capabilities without breaking the bank.

Key Points

San Francisco-In today's economy, it is vital to understand the capabilities of your personal computer (PC) hardware so that you can make the most of your practice's technology capabilities without breaking the bank.

That's one nugget of wisdom from Frank McDonough, director of information systems, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery and the American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators. He highlighted numerous approaches for leveraging technology in a shrinking economy.

He said that an understanding of the future of technology could help practices "make the right investments" in information technology (IT) infrastructure in the next few years. But first, practices need to modify their view of technology, according to McDonough.

In one case example, he told of visiting a practice where they reportedly spent more time waiting on the computer to deliver data back than they did actually interfacing with the computer. The practice wouldn't replace the hardware. The patient would stand in front of the receptionist and wait.

"The receptionist would smile and say, 'The computer's misbehaving today. It'll be just a minute,'" he said. "You've got a week's worth of resources that have been wasted when people are sitting there waiting for information to come up."

In today's environment, it's vital that practices understand that more data are going to have to be delivered in a shorter amount of time. Although larger practices are already seeing those circumstances because they have to communicate through multiple locations, the smaller practice has to be willing to update beyond a handful of PCs, a printer, and a server.

Guidelines for advancing IT

The rule of thumb for investing in hardware, McDonough noted, is to look 5 years ahead. He advised meeting with hardware vendors and the practice management software vendor at least twice a year.

Once your practice understands the EMR requirements and the practice's strategic business plan, your practice management software needs to be able to demonstrate what it has available to help your practice. The next step is to take your business processes and make them electronic.

"You don't want your patient standing at the counter longer than the procedure is taking," he said.

Next, recognize that e-mail, used in the appropriate way, can be effective for patient communication.

"Patients want contact with their medical providers. They want to be able to go to your Web site if they need patient education and want to be able to communicate with you quickly," McDonough said.

For example, by using your practice software, in 5 minutes' time, you have the ability to do e-mail blasts out of your medical practice software if the processes are installed.

"It takes 5 minutes to send out a bulk message to all of your 'e-mailable' patients. Integration is the way this is going to work. Your e-mail system and practice management software have to be able to talk to each other," he said.