Learn how to choose the best technology

Care in the beginning helps avoid problems later

There’s a bewildering array of technology products on the market that makes it hard to decide what will be best for you. Physician’s Managed Care Report asked experts for advice on how physician practices should go about choosing technology.

Here are their tips:

Check out your vendors carefully.

There are literally hundreds of vendors in every area of software applications. Choose your vendors carefully to avoid making costly mistakes. Find out how many installations they have done. You don’t want to be a Beta site without knowing it.

Check to see if the vendor has experience with practices of your size and type. A large physician practice doesn’t want to contract with a vendor that has experience only with individual and two-doctor practices, says Julie Elmore Jones, MBA, MHA, consultant at Gates, Moore & Company, a health care management consultant and accounting firm in Atlanta.

A vendor that specializes in the hospital environment may not have a solution that matches needs for physician practices, adds John Spearly, vice president of Phoenix Health Systems, a health care information technology consulting firm in Washington, DC.

Don’t believe everything a sales rep promises or everything you see in a demonstration.

A discussion and demonstration by the vendor are necessary steps, but don’t stop there. Check it out for yourself by visiting other practices and talking with people who use the system, Spearly advises. "A salesman will promise anything. A demo on a laptop in your office is very different from real production," he adds.

Talk to other practices that are using the system.

Visit other practices, and talk to the physicians and office staff currently using the system and verify what you heard from the vendor.

"Talking to other practices sold me on the system I chose even though I went to seminars and went through practice runs on the systems I was considering," says Barbara Metzer, administrator of Citrus Valley Urology in Glendora, CA.

Check out any problems the practice has had with the system, what kind of service they receive when they have problems, and whether the system is easy to use, she advises.

Don’t consider a product that will require a lot of customization.

"That’s a slippery slope and a money pit. When the vendor comes up with next year’s version, you’ll have to pay to have it customized again," Spearly adds.

Check out all the options.

In addition to looking at the big legacy systems, check out the new, smaller vendors, Jones advises. "There are some good competitive products out there that can compete with the big systems very well."

Avoid investing in either old technology or unproven technology.

Choose a company with a track record and avoid what Spearly calls "bleeding-edge technology that salesmen like to promote."

Start with small steps.

You and your staff may be overwhelmed if you computerize your entire operation all at once. "It’s a huge mistake to do it all at one time. There are so many changes that people are forced to make that they suffer from information overload," says Richard Rutherford, CMPE, former administrator for Urology Associations of Southeastern North Carolina in Wilmington.

Start with something less complicated

Rutherford, who now heads the practice management section for the American Urological Association, suggests starting with a voice mail system if you don’t already have one. Then go to a computerized billing and insurance filing system, and expand into electronic medical records.

Don’t expect to buy a system and just forget it.

Set up a capital budget and invest money every year to keep up with technology.

Make sure your new system can meet all the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Get detailed information about how the vendor will meet the regulations and get it in writing. "At this point, it’s fairly accepted that the proposed regulations will become final. We recommend that clients take the proposed regulations and work with them when they set up or add to their systems," Jones says.

Make sure the vendor will offer updates to keep your software HIPAA-compliant.

Even if you are not in the market for new software, talk to your vendors to make sure they are HIPAA-compliant and will continue to update your system to keep it in compliance, she adds.