With more technology in the practice than ever before and increasing regulation, healthcare organizations nationwide are trying to find ways to stabilize their IT costs.
Technology has helped healthcare practices increase efficiencies, improve quality of care, and even achieve cost savings. But it also can be unpredictable and lead to unexpected expenses.
With proper planning, staffing, partners and understanding of the environment, IT costs can be deliberate. Here are four ways practices stabilize IT costs.
1. Develop a roadmap
The saying “when you fail to plan, you plan to fail” really rings true for technology today. Taking the time to develop an 18-24 month roadmap of your IT environment can help your practice plan for growth, known system upgrades and new and emerging technologies. Start by projecting your potential growth in employees, practice areas and locations. This allows you to allocate the resources needed, without feeling rushed or putting pressure on your resources.
The most common surprises that practices navigate are system and software updates. Often these upgrades require additional storage or computing power. By outlining these requirements ahead of time in a plan, you’ll save yourself unnecessary stress and budget.
Finally, look ahead at the emerging technologies, trends and regulations and identify their impacts on your organization and IT infrastructure. If your practice is planning on joining a Health Information Exchange in the next 18-24 months, for example, your network, infrastructure and storage needs may be affected. When you factor technology shifts like this into your roadmap, you’ll be less likely to spend dollars on resources or infrastructure that you may not need a year or two from now.
There will still be unexpected needs that arise, but having a roadmap in place will diminish the severity and degree of crisis when these surprises arise.
2. Understand the unique roles in IT
In the medical field, it’s common to have providers specialize so they can more effectively care for patients. The same is true in IT. Hiring a jack-of-all-trades to run your IT department will likely get you only a 75 percent competence in all aspects of technology. And that one staffer will not provide 100% coverage around the clock and around the calendar without suffering burnout, introducing major risk. It’s important to understand the roles, skills, and workload required to run a successful IT department for your practice.
It’s unreasonable to assume that your IT support person can also manage your practice’s network. Or, that your network technician can also manage your growing storage needs. You wouldn’t expect a scheduler who isn’t trained (or does not have the skill set) to conduct labs, take images, or treat highly specialized cases. Recognize and document the unique skill sets required for your IT needs and hire to fill that need.
In areas where your practice may have a talent void and a full-time employee is not justified, consider outsourcing to a service provider. You can gain access to specialists in specific areas of IT, augmenting your staff and providing a seamless user experience.
3. Use utility models where possible
While the utility model or, pay-per-use, is a relatively new concept in computing, it’s been used for decades by energy companies. Customers pay for energy based on how much they consume, thus minimizing their spending to only what’s required.
Renting your software licenses is one method utilized in the healthcare market. In this model, practices rent the exact number of licenses they need to accommodate their users. This eliminates a large, up-front expenditure of software and turns the cost into a manageable, monthly expense. Renting licenses also assures you are complying with software licensing rules throughout your organization. And, at the pace software changes today, return-on-investment is achieved if you recognize software versions change more frequently than every 3 years.
Cloud computing is the IT Industry’s utility model, now seeing much higher adoption in healthcare. In a typical cloud computing environment, the client’s infrastructure is right-sized for their specific needs, eliminating excess and waste. Practices pay a per-user-fee each month that factors in the exact elements needed by user. By doing this, practices don’t have underutilized resources or large investments in infrastructure. And, the cloud provider takes on the added responsibility of ensuring you are licensed properly.
4. Understand your data storage tactics
Data storage is the fastest growing cost in the IT infrastructure, especially with the implementation and retention of electronic health records (EHRs). When you understand your storage environment, these costs can be managed and impacts mitigated.
If your practice’s EHR software supports tiered storage, you can set up business rules that tell the software when to use the fastest (most expensive) storage tier and when the data can be moved to the slower (less expensive) tier. When you implement these rules within your EHR system, your storage costs will decrease because you’re not storing everything on the most expensive tier of storage. (We’ll talk more about this in an upcoming blog).
Also consider how your practice’s workflows affect storage costs. Many practices will create a document, print it, have it signed by the patient, scan it in, print it, have it signed by the provider and scan it in again. This workflow may create six versions of the same document in the patient’s record, when the only version needed is the final one. Reviewing these types of processes within your practice can not only reduce storage, but also time.
When managed correctly, IT can be predictable, cost-effective and beneficial in your practice. These are just four ideas on how to make these changes. Practices cannot control the rate at which new technology is emerging or mandated, but they can make informed decisions on how to best manage these changes for their organization.