Be a smart shopper when buying computers

Let someone else do the R&D

If your practice is in the market for a computer system, are you sure you’re making the right purchasing decisions?

Ron Sterling, CPA, MBA, president of Silver Spring, MD-based Sterling Solutions, offers these principles to steer by when buying computer products:

Quantify your expectations. "Justify the purchase," Sterling says. "Sometimes people tell me all they want to do is what they’re doing now. In that case, I say, why spend any money?" Let your real needs in today’s environment drive the decision, he says.

Don’t look at computers as the investment. "The people who are going to be affected by the computers — the patients, the insurers, the employee base — are worth much more than the computers, and they’re your real investment," Sterling says.

Inge Holman, MD, an internist in Pensacola, FL, and a member of the computer committee of the Washington, DC-based American Society of Internal Medicine, offers the following suggestions to physician practices considering computer hardware or software purchases:

Buy locally. "If it breaks, you want someone you can call and not pass the buck," Holman says. "Get everything through the same person."

Buy only proven software and hardware. "Pay somebody else to do the [research and devlopment]," he says. "Make sure you’re getting software known to run on the particular hardware you have." If you don’t know whether this is the case, ask your peers to find out.

Buy more memory than you think you need and as big a hard disk as you can afford. "Whatever you buy today is going to be less than what you need tomorrow," Holman says, adding that this holds true for computing speed, modem speed, or any other computer feature as well.

Make sure your service contract covers the whole package. This goes for software as well as hardware, he says.

Get a printer that will make printed items look good. This would be a good inkjet or laserjet printer, but do not get a dot-matrix printer.