Friday, October 21, 2011

Technology Improves Efficiency

I thought I would talk a little bit more about efficiency. Just recently,  I decided to buy a new software called Dragon Naturally Speaking. I thought that using Dragon might make me more productive because I could dictate my posts in the car while driving.  This is my first attempt using Dragon in the car, but so far I find this is a really a useful software.

I wanted to give this example of how I’m using the Dragon software in order to improve my own efficiency.  I find in many businesses that efficiency is not a top priority. Perhaps, many businesses don’t realize the importance. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, efficiency helps to cut costs by cutting down the amount of time that it takes people to complete tasks. And I can’t say that Dragon is necessarily the solution for everyone, this is simply one example of the way technology can improve efficiency.
Rule: The right technology can streamline any business and improve efficiency.
Technology can improve workflow and function in many ways. Before I proceed,  I think it’s important to let the reader know about my personal bias. It should be known that I work for an electronic medical record software company. With that, I like to offer you my assurance that this blog is was designed to offer healthcare business management tips that I’ve learned over the years.  This blog will never attempt to sell anything. This is simply a means of sharing my experience in the trenches in an attempt to give the reader some common sense healthcare business management tips.  In this post I will talk about electronic medical records and other times, I will talk about other types of efficiency-provoking software, but I will keep it relatively general with regard to EMR to avoid seeming bias. To support my promise, I’ll do my very best not to even mention the name company by which I am employed; however you decide to go out and do a Google search on my name - more power to you.  

Now with that said,  I’m going to go ahead and give you my perspective on EMR .  I want to talk about a common misconception that EMR causes practices to lose productivity. It commonly said that when a medical practice implements an electronic medical record productivity decreases because the workflow has to be reinvented. But let me pose this question instead, is it possible that your workflow needs to be reinvented? Just because something seems to be working doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. How many areas in your business could be improved with simple changes.

That’s what I have found every company with which I have worked. It may seem like things are working but there were problems no one bothered to notice. For example, many medical practices have a  problem with lost charges. Lost charges equal lost revenue.  In another office the problem was inefficient project management and working within budget.  What was the solution? The implementation of the appropriate technologies. Technology works like an extra brain outside of your head helping keeping track of the details.
Now the biggest question  of all… Did the new technology reduce productivity? Yes, temporarily! Our productivity definitely went down for a little while. As everyone was getting used to the new technology, productivity decreased and staff complained. But, I didn’t budge. I reinforced the importance of using the new technology. Then, after little while the staff became acclimated and guess what happened. Productivity skyrocketed!  That’s what you’ll find with an electronic medical records.

For a little while, as you get used to using electronic medical record, it’s going to take longer to do things. It is a change to your workflow; however, in the long run you’ll find that the productivity will increase in a way that you would never imagine. Here’s the caveat - you have to use it right! A lot of medical practices have a tendency of implementing partial technology. That’s wrong!  if you don’t use it right, it’s not going to work.  That means that you have to take a little break from your usual routine to get used to the technology and learn how to use all of its capabilities. In the end you’ll find out that by using it fully your workflow will improve. In the long run you will be more profitable because of increased efficiency.

 Unfortunately, people have a tendency of getting comfortable in their workflows. Therefore, any changes to that workflow are perceived as bad. But simply because you’re stuck in a particular workflow above it doesn’t mean that that workflow is right. As a matter of fact, for most medical practices, the workflow is just plain wrong! The best thing you can possibly do is to talk to your technology vendor and ask them what they recommend as the optimal workflow when using that software. You’ll find if you are willing to be flexible you will improve your profitability.

Here’s an example: I was working with a medical practice just the other day. The doctor called me up complaining that he found that the practice lost charges.  The practice uses paper super bills and maintains a secondary paper log book to track charges (the paper log book served as a checks and balances system to make sure they recorded everything). Still, for all this redundant, manual work,  there were charges that were never billed to the insurance company. I asked him why he wouldn’t be using the electronic super bills that are available on the software that he’s currently using and why he is duplicating efforts with the paper log? These checks and balances are available in the software(no double entry required)! The doctor’s response to this was ‘because I like my paper super bills’. But, obviously you like something that doesn’t work – use the technology the right way or stop complaining!

So perhaps you already have an EMR –the general concept can apply are million areas in your business. It just requires simply stepping back and realizing that maybe your current workflow is not as good as you think.  Reassess your work flow and ask yourself these questions: What is getting lost? What is not getting done on time? What is taking too long? What efforts are redundant?

Now for the hard part. Be objective – it may be time to realize that your workflow isn’t right, perhaps it’s very wrong. Just because you’re comfortable in that workflow doesn’t mean that it’s profitable. Simple changes and the implementation of the appropriate technologies can help streamline your workflow, saving you time and money. You will have a little downtime, you will lose revenue in the short term, but the long-term benefits will greatly outweigh those losses and make it very worth it! 


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