Understanding All of IT – Practices Must Stay on Top of Advances in Technology

While our regulators in the Capital have continued the debate on tax and healthcare reform, there continues to be a seismic transformation within the healthcare industry, albeit primarily behind the scenes.
While it may not be front-page news on a daily basis, the speed at which technology is shaping our world has been transitioning at a pace never seen before. This has had a direct impact on healthcare organizations throughout the industry.
As we move into the future, it should be clear to all medical and dental practices that, in order to meet the demands of this fast-changing environment, a well-planned and well-designed technological infrastructure will be critical. This article will explore some of the areas where a well-designed EHR (electronic health record) system is a necessity, as well as the impact on the patient and physician experience, coupled with security concerns.

EHR and Meaningful Use
Going back to 2011, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services implemented a series of programs designed to incentivize physicians and physician groups to explore and adopt a new facet of technology within their practice. Over time, these programs have evolved from being geared around the payment of incentives for those practices that met certain requirements relative to the implementation of certified EHR technology, to one that adjusts payments, up or down, for not using EHR and data properly.
Many practices raced early on to meet the stage-1 and stage-2 requirements of the meaningful-use incentive program to qualify for the incentive payouts. Stage 3 is now in effect, and providers are generally required to report under the Quality Payment Program.
Under the Quality Payment Program, practices are now rewarded for the value and quality of their work. Additionally, those that do not meet certain standards may now be adversely impacted through payment reductions. While the ultimate goal is improved patient health through efficient and effective treatment, the only way to properly track and monitor the results is through data.
The most efficient way to capture the data needed to meet these requirements is through your EHR system. What many practices don’t realize is that in the same manner that data can be extracted to meet the requirements of the quality payment program, so too can practices extract data for internal review to improve their own performance.
An internal review of the electronic data that is gathered may identify certain inefficiencies leading to increased charges or decreased administrative time.

IT Assessments
Too many practices buy or convert to an EHR system due to a convincing sales pitch or because a colleague recommended it. It is vitally important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when deciding which system to go with. What works well for one practice won’t necessarily work for another. Before committing to a very expensive system, consider having a formal assessment performed and reviewed by an independent third party. Such an assessment could include a review of the hardware and software being considered, as well as the applications they will be running, combined with training of the staff using these systems. A little more time and money spent upfront could help save tens of thousands of dollars and many headaches down the road.

Generational Speed of Change
With a new generation of patients using the services of a medical practice, addressing the use of technology within a practice will become critical to its existence. To accomplish this effectively, each provider will need to solve the conundrum created by the increasing use of EHR and tablets in patient exam rooms. That is, the generation most comfortable with using technology has helped to create a system that requires the provider to be wedded to that technology. However, what the patient is really looking for is face time with the physician. Identifying this balance should be at the forefront of any practice’s technology plan.
Another area where a practice can obtain an advantage in treating Millennial patients is through the use of a patient portal. This generation knows how to use technology, and would often rather use technology versus a phone call or visit to the office. Offering a high-performing patient-portal system could be what sets your practice apart from others.

Data Security
With changes in technology happening at such a fast pace, and the use of shared applications and portals, it is important to consider the security of your data. In order to ensure that there are no security ‘gaps’ between inter-operating programs and systems, it is critical to have your practice reviewed by an IT security specialist. Additionally, it is equally necessary to discuss the importance of technological security with your employees, while developing formal policies and procedures that they are expected to follow.
There are various security policies that should be in place at any practice. These include, but are not limited to, data encryption and requiring that computers do not leave the office. One of the most common offenders of security breaches is a lost or stolen computer. With the amount of data now being stored on these systems, it can be particularly troublesome if they go missing. Be especially careful with the disposal of items from the office, especially those with built-in hard drives.

Systems Down
What happens when your EHR doesn’t start up in the morning? Or what if you’re missing a week’s worth of patient billings? In addition to purchasing a sophisticated, high-tech system, it is equally important to spend just as much time considering backup servers and contingency plans.
Each practice should be backing up data on a regular basis, or by having a second parallel server that data is being stored on. This way, there is always something to fall back on in order to restore missing or corrupted data. Additionally, as comfortable as the industry is becoming with those handheld tablet devices, it is important for all staff to understand the protocol for having and using manual forms if the servers are down. This will help to ensure that, in the event that the systems are not working as intended, you will not experience a significant loss in productivity.
The speed at which technology continues to impact our society will continue to grow exponentially. To continue maintaining a profitable practice, it is vital to understand how these advancements are continuing to evolve. To be successful in the future, a well-planned and designed technological infrastructure will be critical.

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