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Information Technology

Information Technology

Innovations such as electronic medical record (EMR) systems, computerized drug-order entry and e-prescribing can improve the quality of care that patients receive and increase inefficiencies in medical practices.

As medical practice executives and physician leaders plan to meet the challenges of today’s environment, they must have a focus on strategic technology planning. To prosper, health care organizations must be able to use the power of technology. How should medical practices handle IT strategic planning?
Stimulate your thinking about technology. Strategic planning is not a science. It’s a process for helping medical practices think about the objectives they should set if they are to fulfill their missions— and determine the directions to take to achieve their goals. strategic IT planning helps coordinate the efforts of all participants; it requires that an organization bridge the gap between its business vision and its use of information technology.

Information Technology: To begin strategic IT planning in your organization, you need to stimulate technology thinking in yourself and other medical practice leaders.
Assess your current technology situation. You must evaluate factors in several key areas of your organization.

Medical practice

1. From the following list, identify the top three issues your practice faces:

  • Amount of funding for technology purchases;
  • Amount of time for technology planning;
  • Age and operability of current equipment;
  • Efficiency of current practice management software;
  • Expert IT staff employed;
  • Value that administrative leaders and physicians place on technology; and
  • Ease of getting input from physicians, staff and patients.

2. How does your practice implement and integrate technology-related decisions?

Staff

  • Who is in charge of day-to-day technology management in your practice?
  • Estimate the number of hours per week spent on:
  • Technical assistance to staff; and
  • Fixing broken equipment or system glitches.

3. Is the amount of time spent on the above tasks adequate to serve your technology needs? If not, what types of employees or resources are needed?

4. What kinds of technology training do your employees need? What would make them more efficient and comfortable with technology? Have you assessed their current level of knowledge?

5. Assess your workstations (Information Technology). Are there enough for all employees? Are they ergonomically installed?

Financial

1. What is your total operating budget?

2. How much is spent annually on:

  • Hardware?
  • Software?
  • Training?
  • Network development?

3. How could you improve the process for technology purchasing and budgeting?

Internal/external communication

1. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your organization’s current information systems. What about them works well?

What needs to be improved?

  • Billing
  • Collections
  • Appointments
  • Capturing patient information

2. How does your practice handle incoming telephone calls?

  • Voice-mail system
  • Answering machine
  • Operator sending paper notes

3. Do you get many complaints about the telephone system? What would improve the situation?

4. Is the number of voice, fax and data lines into your practice sufficient to handle current and anticipated volume?

5. Can staff share documents electronically?

6. What percentage of calls are repetitive requests for information that could be provided electronically?

7. Do employees have access to the Internet at their workstations? Do they know how to use the Internet effectively?

8. Do you have an intranet for communications within the organization? Does your management team use e-mail to communicate with key groups of employees? Is it efficient?

Web site:

1. Does your practice have a Web site? If so, how well does it meet goals for communication?

2. Whom are you trying to reach? Do you let your customers (patients, hospitals, labs, other practices) know about your Web site and its features?

3. What content is on your Web site? Who is responsible for content? Do accountable employees have adequate training, tools and resources?

4. Who is responsible for answering inquiries and responding to feedback from site visitors? Is the process efficient?

5. How do you track the effectiveness of your site? Do you use the information for improvements?
Define your IT strategic plan. Once you have evaluated your technological situation, create and define your strategic IT plan. This requires the support of your physicians. They must authorize your approach to gathering your team, including a participating physician, and grant the necessary money and time.

You and your team need to:

Review and define strategic goals of the practice

1. Meet with physician leaders to develop a list of primary business goals for the next few years. These should include:

  • Geographic expansion;
  • New facilities;
  • Addition of ancillaries; and
  • Merger/growth opportunities.

2. As you look to the future, do you see gaps relative to services your group provides? What information services and resources could address those needs? What and how can technology help close the gaps?
Review current technology infrastructure. Summarize your current hardware and software. Outline the strengths and weaknesses of your systems.

2. Determine physical space and management needs. Assess IT support: in-house or third party? Technology takes up room, requires maintenance and costs money.

3. Sketch out network development needs.

Information Technology: Wired or wireless?

Determine technology goals

1. Create a list of IT goals for the next two to three years that support current medical practice processes, as well as the infrastructure requirements of new business initiatives:

  • Look at your reporting relationships. As technology use increases, management reporting lines should be evaluated and changed to ensure effectiveness. Departmental cooperation will be crucial for the practice to use resources efficiently.
  • Summarize your needs for your electronic health records. Do you need a full enterprise solution, new practice management system, document imaging management?
  •  Security is essential and will be affected by electronic storage of patient health information. How will security affect implementation and projected costs?

Create a list of proposed projects

1. Based on the findings above, prepare a sequential list of technology projects. If possible, define time requirements and demonstrate that they are linked to organizational goals.

  • You may need to create, change or eliminate policies and procedures to accommodate the capabilities of new technology. For example, Web access requires a detailed policy on appropriate Internet access and use.
  • Consider continuing education for employees. Allocate project time and resources for training. Long-term funding of technology-related resources is an essential component of any plan.

2. Record projects necessary for continued support of existing technology in your practice.

Define the implementation timeline

  • Use a Gantt chart to show implementation time for each project. Use this document for capital and expense budgeting, too.
  • Measure and evaluate the effect of your IT strategy. Include implementation milestones and other measurements. This will allow early identification of problems.

And don’t forget …

As you go through the process, keep these tips in mind:

  • The people accountable for getting the job done must also be involved in strategic planning. Setting goals and objectives and developing strategies should include key managers.
  • Key managers involved must recognize that strategic IT planning is an important part of their job duties. They must be able and willing to commit necessary time, energy and resources.
  • Remind participants that the future may not meet our expectations. No matter how carefully we plan, threats and opportunities may change.

Therefore:

  • Don’t spend too much time on “what ifs.”
  • Revisit your IT strategic plan at least annually and update it when appropriate to reflect the changing environment.
  • Involve new members of the management team to get fresh perspectives.
  • Ask strategic planning participants to take an organizational perspective that considers the ability of the practice to meet the immediate and long-term needs of patients, staff and physicians.

The exchange of ideas, the sharing of convictions and doubts, and the deliberations are enormously valuable. Strategic thinking activities provide the management team with a strong basis on which to build the future of the organization.

Leading change and implementing information technology often go hand in hand. The key to success in both is a thorough, inclusive planning process. Collect the necessary information, select a well-rounded team, exchange ideas and prepare your medical practice for success.

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