Technology Levers to Pull for Your Practice
Deliver Better Client Products with Less Effort
By Randy Johnston
Client service with innovative offerings and deliverables are great ways to improve the profitability of your business. Having the right people with the most efficient tools is another.
Whether you have a boutique company with one owner or a group of owners, or you are a part of a larger organization, having the right tools can allow you to deliver better client products with less effort. Frequently, technology is the tool that helps you get that job done.
We can now work efficiently in the office and, with the right tools, out of the office. You have to choose and implement the best software and hardware to make this work successfully. This starts with your billing system and goes all the way down to low-level software, like VMware virtualization, Windows Server, and Citrix. Vendors may try to mask some of the complexities of the complete solution. Your job is to understand the impact and costs of all of these technologies on efficiently performing a client service and deliverable.
What to Choose and How
You have heard the pundits and prognosticators. Each has a magic formula of how to improve your company, but few of the ideas seem to apply to your client base. Consider this idea: create and improve a vision for your business, intend to choose products and services that fit your strategy, and pick technologies that support this. Use your firm's website, as well as branding and marketing efforts, to help clients understand what you offer. Then, train your team on how to do this work effectively, efficiently, and professionally.
That said, what expertise do you have in the firm, and what is your passion? What areas of practice are your clients in, and which ones do you specifically service? What requirements have they discussed with you? What needs and pain points have you addressed with your clients? Are you simply trying to compete on price? Can you list services your clients need in both billing and supplemental services? Are there services that can be recurring revenue sources for your firm?
You will be successful if you can focus on one area of expertise, as in a niche or vertical focus. Technology can help you with this, since you can service practices out of your local or regional geography. If you believe you are better off serving a broad client base in a number of areas of practice locally, which is what typically happens in smaller markets with less dense population, then you will definitely need to use technology to gain efficiencies.
The next item to consider is how you want to provide your services. Do you want to do the coding and entry, or do you prefer to use entries prepared by the client? Do you like to work through traditional methods, like dropping off or mailing work, or can you add technologies such as scanning, encrypted email, or a portal? Can you share files with the client by hosting their practice, providing electronic health records (EHRs), portals, and payment services? Are you doing this work in the office, or do you want to work from home or client sites? How much time do you spend in the office, and how much time are you out?
If you or your team are out more than ten percent of your time, you can benefit from smartphones, tablets, or Ultrabook portable computers and applications that make them more effective, like Citrix Essentials or Enterprise. Mobile and web apps will give you more mobility for consuming content, but only marginal ability to create content or do production work. Your website will be critical in helping others want to do business with you, and you should make sure it is professionally developed and has logins to all of your key applications and the services you offer. We suggest you decide if you want to be able to work anywhere, anytime, on any device – or not.
This leads to the question of where you want to provide your services. Traditionally, we have been more productive in our offices, because we have greater support with more monitors, scanners, and fast printers, not to mention some support staff or others who can help us with the client deliverables. However, what if your model is one of client-facing time to provide advice and guidance?
If you are going to be with clients, you will require more mobile hardware. You will need to choose the technology levers of smartphones, tablets, and portable computers. Examples of leading cell phone products include the Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy and Note, HTC 8x and One, Motorola Moto X, and the Nokia Lumia. Some of the popular tablet products include the iPad Air or Mini, Google Nexus, Samsung Galaxy Tab, and Microsoft Surface, which is especially useful if you require Windows compatibility. Finally, examples of dominant portable Ultrabook products include the HP Revolve, Envy, and Split; Lenovo X1 Carbon, Yoga, and Twist; Sony Vaio; and Dell Inspiron and XPS.
Once you have the services identified, think about the software to drive these deliverables. You have chosen a billing system, and possibly a coding system, as well as software to satisfy document management and portal needs. You may not have chosen anything for workflow or customer relationship management (CRM)/business development, such as Results CRM or Infusionsoft, because you have been focusing on ICD-10 compliance. Over time, you will have new opportunities to service your clients and may have to acquire other tools to comply with new regulations, such as Appropriate Use Criteria (AUC), Clinical Decision Support (CDS), and the Medicare Incentive Program (MIP), since these regulations are not well understood today.
To support these software products, you may need to continue to implement new servers, whether in the cloud or on-premise. You should watch for the latest processor chip technologies, including Intel's Xeon E7 v2 for servers and 5th Generation Broadwell chips for desktops and laptops. The Broadwell chips include DDR4 RAM support, are 30 percent more efficient, which should yield about 17 laptop hours on a single charge, and include advanced Pro Graphics. We expect Next Unit of Computing (NUCs) or all-in-one computers with touchscreens to become viable replacements for desktops. Over time, higher-resolution monitors supporting ultrahigh definition (UHD) and 4K will also become more common.
Continue to maintain your operating systems, Microsoft Office productivity software, and antivirus licenses. As you complete your transition from Windows XP and Office 2003 to Windows 8 and Office 2013, continue to plan for the new Windows 9 and Office 2016. Microsoft is being very aggressive with software licensing audits. Your best business strategy to protect your firm from an audit is to use either Microsoft Open Licensing with Software Assurance or a version of Office 365 that meets your business needs.
Look for Results
Be careful not to choose technology levers that do not fit your business. Just because everyone else is using tablets or Ultrabook computers does not mean that they are the right solution for you. Is it effective for your company? What are you trying to achieve? Do you just need access to a little information when you are meeting with a client? Is a smartphone enough? Perhaps a slightly larger phone lets you accomplish everything you need. If that is the case, why buy and maintain tablets or Ultrabooks? Even using the simple approach of a desktop in the office and a desktop at home can certainly work effectively. The bottom line is to choose the best technology for your firm's needs. Picking the right technology tools can help you pull the right levers!
Randy Johnston is CEO and cofounder of Network Management Group, Inc. He and his NMGI team provide IT consulting services and recommendations to HBMA members as part of their membership benefits. If you have questions on any hardware, software, procedures, or IT strategies for your firm, contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions or to schedule a time to speak.