Walk Before Running to Manage Technology Overload

As more and more practice management software comes on the market, physicians need to take a step back to find out which technology they really need and how best to phase it in.

Imagine a scene where two individuals are talking, and one of them begins to provide the other with more information—usually personal—than the former really wants to know.

“Too much information,” they’ll say, often forming a ‘T’ with their hands to signal time out. It can be a humorous scene.

But there’s nothing funny about information overload, specifically technology overload, where medical practices are concerned. It’s a serious problem.

“We are in the infancy of the switch over from paper files to electronic records,” says Derrick Handwerk, managing partner of Handwerk Multi Family Office. “The small physician practices of two to four physicians cannot keep up with the costs involved with an electronic medical record and will continue to face profitability pressures.”

Problem Assessment

Handwerk says that physicians are being coerced by Medicare to use EMR systems. The drawbacks are reduced patient throughput. And with the reduction in the number of patients comes the subsequent reduction in revenue.

“Two of my physician clients have small groups,” Handwerk says. “We just came to the conclusion that they’re 60 years old, and they’re going to ride it out using a paper system. Because they just can’t afford an EMR system and make it pay for itself.”

The result, he says, is some physicians being driven out of business and others selling to hospitals and other groups because they can’t afford the overhead. Still others continue grappling with data complexity, unable to merge sources to drive real time decision-making.

Julia Barnett, chief nursing officer at Union General Hospital in Blairsville, GA, says that technology overload, often in the form of having to re-learn new systems, becomes time-consuming for both clinical and non-clinical staff.

“And any time we’re having to do that it’s taking away from what we’re all about, which is taking care of our patients,” she says.

Finding a Solution

In August 2015, Barnett and her colleagues began using Sisense, a business analytics software company with offices in New York City and Tel Aviv, as a way to get their arms around all the data required for running a hospital, caring for patients, and meeting regulatory requirements.

“We found it to be more valuable after we initially got it, and continue to find it more valuable as we think of other applications within our hospital system where we can use it and save time,” Barnett explains.

Karen Reff, manager of decision support at Union General Hospital, says there are currently 10 departments and 30 individuals using Sisense in some capacity across the organization. One basic utilization is obtaining census data every day. Instead of going into their system and manually counting the number of patients in each unit, a dashboard provides that data in a matter of seconds.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work with root cause analysis for readmissions,” Reff says. “We’ve also been using it to manage our revenue cycle, examining inefficiencies and managing them in real time, and delays in billing.”

Cynthia Knight, director of case management at the hospital, echoes the benefits of using Sisense where readmissions are concerned.

“With just a few clicks of a button, I can drill down to a specific physician and find out 12 data elements per physician whereas before it took me forever to be able to pull that data,” Knight says. “Consequently, I’m able to give the physicians better information on their patients and potential causes of readmissions.”

Weigh the Options

There’s no question that, when effectively implemented, technology can provide valuable information to healthcare professionals. But does it make sense for everyone?

Handwerk suggests that physicians in private practice first do a cost-benefit analysis. For example, where Medicare reimbursements are concerned, how much will it impact the practice to lose that income? Compare that against the cost of switching to an EMR—including equipment, software, and employee training.

“You need to have a plan,” he says. “You need to sit down and do it methodically. Which hospital are you affiliated with? How important is it for you and the hospital to communicate back and forth?”

Perhaps most important is recognizing that the entire transition, if that’s the direction you decide to go, should be done incrementally.

“Let your staff gradually get up to speed,” Handwerk says. “Phase it in. And talk to physicians who you look up to from a business standpoint, who have done this transition well. Pain over the details, because if you don’t the details are going to kill you.”