Top 5 IT rules for smaller practices

By Michelle McNickle
01:26 PM
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Although so many health IT-related discussions tend to focus on large organizations across the country, it's important to remember the smaller practices whose needs differ. In fact, implementing new technologies into a smaller practice can be tricky, depending on the amount of data you have and your willingness to pick up on current IT trends.

We asked Shahid Shah, software IT analyst and author of the blog  The Healthcare IT Guy, for his thoughts on outfitting these small practices with the right health IT. He says some legwork is needed to ensure proper selection, and making sure new technology truly streamlines work in a smaller practice is essential.

Check out Shah’s five IT rules for smaller practices: 

1. Ease into the technology. First and foremost, Shah said to ensure new technology won't do any harm.  "All technology takes time to implement," he said. "What's important is that while you're working toward improvement, you don't harm your business in the process." He continues by saying technology shouldn't make a practice, department or clinic worse than it was before the technology was introduced. And after it’s fully implemented, "it should start improving, or ‘healing’ [the organization]."

2. Focus on interoperability and best of breed. “Our desired tendency is to go for 'all inclusive' or 'complete solutions,' but healthcare is too complex for any single vendor or package to do everything,” said Shah. But by focusing on best of breed and interoperability, an organization can grow at its own pace and choose solutions it really needs, as opposed to technologies vendors think it needs. 

3. Ask the right questions.  “Ask the right questions of your vendors and staff when they’re selecting any new technology," said Shah. "Don't worry about features, functions, and technology." Instead, Shah suggests "worrying" more about your business by asking yourself a few simple questions, such as: 

  • Will my patient be more satisfied because I’m using the system?
  • Will the outcome of care be improved because I’m using the system?
  • Can I spend more time on my patient’s care versus documenting the encounter?
  • How many more patients per day will I be able to see because of the system?
  • Can I go home earlier because the system helps me finish my work faster?
  • How many fewer lawsuits will be filed because I used the system?

4. Make sure the technology fits your desired outcomes (not tasks). Almost any type of software will improve some aspects of your business, said Shah. However, the real question is whether the software improves the aspects you care the most about. Shah suggested when asking technical questions, start with some of the ones seen below: 

  • How can I easily transmit my patient’s medical records in a safe and secure manner without spending all day making copies?
  • How many more lawsuits will I win because I used the system?
  • How will the system be able to increase my patient population or help me market my services better?
  • How much faster can I get paid for my services after I’m using the system?
  • Can I get secure access to my data while I’m away from home or the office?

5. Be sure it can handle the different data you have. “When you’re choosing technology, be sure to look at the kind of data you’re capturing regularly and ensure the vendor you choose and the deployment model you pick are geared toward the data you create, rather than the kind of data the vendor can store,” said Shah. He added that almost all vendors are great at structured data, but few are good at managing non-structured data, faxes, images, and similar information. “When looking at ‘cloud providers’ (online software) make sure the larger data you capture can be fit through your network pipes,” Shah added. “Most vendors or technology providers focus you on what kinds of data they can manage. But, any reasonable office deals with [multiple] kinds of data, and you need to make sure your selection can manage it. For instance, consider the following: 

  • Structured data (fully coded ICD, CPT, etc)
  • Semi-structured data (machine understandable but with keywords and such)
  • Unstructured data (natural language)
  • Images
  • Faxes
  • Audio
  • Video
  • Chat logs, email logs

In closing, Shah added most software systems handle structured data quite well. “In fact, EMRs are an excellent way to capture structured data,” he said. “But in my experience, structured data makes up only a small fraction of healthcare data. Semi-structured data, and completely unstructured data, along with faxes, make up a big portion of data.” Medical images make up an even larger portion of “the healthcare data pie,” he said, while video, email, chat and other upcoming technologies will be taking up larger portions of the database space as well. 

Follow Michelle McNickle on Twitter at @Michelle_writes.