To share how a smaller healthcare practice grew its business through the use of technology, I’ve reached out to Therese Rodda, owner and executive director of Friendship Heights Rehabilitation Center and a physical therapist with more than twenty years experience. Therese has spent her entire career working within my home Washington, D.C. metropolitan area in hospital, outpatient and home care and was the former Community Health Professional of the Year nominee by the Maryland National Home Care Association. Thus, she knows a great deal about healthcare technology, and here are her lessons learned as a result of upgrading the IT infrastructure of her practice in order to open another clinic and satellite office:
Thanks to technology, the entire world is evolving and growing more informed and connected every day. The healthcare industry, in particular, can reap significant benefits such as increased efficiency, communication and more effective patient care through the use of solutions like electronic medical records, online health portals and data aggregators, to name a few. But we all know it’s not as easy as 1- 2- 3 to implement these technologies, and for small practices, in particular, adopting health IT can be a daunting task. Many have opted not to adopt new solutions due to the fact that costs, HIPAA compliance, physician adoption and ongoing technical support can seem like unsolvable barriers.
However, with three-fourths of the nation’s providers considered ‘small,’ this is a considerable concern as technology has grown to become essential in developing, growing and sustaining a practice.
I wanted to thank Shahid for giving me an opportunity to discuss lessons learned from my physical therapy practice, Friendship Heights Rehabilitation Center, as we embarked on a mission to upgrade our IT infrastructure in order to open another clinic and satellite office.
When we first started this task, I must admit that it seemed a bit overwhelming and intimidating. However, we quickly came to realize that IT doesn’t have to be that complicated. In fact, we were able to deploy one solution that not only provided a solid IT infrastructure to keep up with our growth, but addressed a number of other needs that helped staff at Friendship Heights Rehabilitation Center ultimately provide better and more efficient patient care.
And from the process, we walked away with a number of lessons learned to share with other practices of similar size:
- Recognize Inefficiencies. We knew that our IT infrastructure needed work prior to opening a second Friendship Heights location. However, as part of this process we wanted to identify other inefficiencies and make sure our IT solution would address them. For instance, we recognized that our paper-based processes were one of the biggest time wasters and cost drivers, with employees using wall calendars, manually scheduling appointments, faxing documents by hand, and handwriting patient notes and storing them in file cabinets.I thought the road to achieving a paperless office would be costly and likely result in some digital processes with others still reliant on paper. However, it turns out that a paperless office was achieved not only at a decent price point, but as a seamless part of the process of upgrading our IT infrastructure.
Once we went paperless and staff no longer had to fax by hand, they were each able to see two more patients a week and we were able to open up 50 square feet of floor space that was previously for filing cabinets. Not only did this drive an increase in revenue for our practice, but our paper costs went down by 75 percent. I even got rid of my fax machine.
- Find the Right Partner. Knowing that we needed a partner to help guide us through what seemed like such a complicated process, we partnered with IT service provider District Computers. They really demonstrated an understanding of small businesses and growing companies alike, specifically in terms of identifying the most effective solution to meet our various needs as a small business while remaining within our price point. District Computers actually suggested an all-in-one solution based on Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2008 Premium, as it is designed specifically for businesses with fewer than 75 employees and met nearly every need we had.
- Go Remote and Increase Productivity. To manage three locations and spend more time with patients, ensuring productivity while away from the office was crucial. Before upgrading, staff had to share three desktops and did not have remote access to our practice management software or e-mail. In fact, I spent about 40 percent of my time organizing the office’s administrative duties.Now, with remote capabilities from Windows Small Business Server, we have improved productivity by 40 percent and increased the number of patients seen by 30 percent. Plus, therapists can access patient files stored in a central location from any mobile phone or Internet-connected computer.
Not only did business double within a year, but we’re able to spend more time with patients and concentrate on providing better, more effective care.
- Prepare for Future Innovation. We currently use EON Systems TPSs and Documentor for our electronic medical record (EMR) solution, as they are designed specifically for physical therapy practices. However, I know that in the near future I want to upgrade this system so that we can benefit from features such as easier documentation of exercise programs and patient outcomes. Therefore, it was important to make sure that the solution we chose to upgrade our IT infrastructure would not only be able to keep up with the growth of our practice, but also support future technology deployments such as more advanced electronic medical records.
- Data Security and HIPAA Compliance Don’t Have to Be Time Consuming. We’ve always taken the necessary steps to protect patient information, but before going paperless it was much more difficult to do – paper charts are much more likely to be misplaced and can be read by unauthorized people, like cleaning staff. Now that we’re digital, our chosen solution does much of the security work for us. Enforced network updates and server protection features provide an extra layer of security that makes it easier to comply with HIPAA, and automatic updates of the latest critical security updates make it easier to centrally manage and protect critical business data.
The bottom line is that making an investment in information technology doesn’t have to be costly and intimidating. In reality, it can solve many of the challenges faced by small practices such as Friendship Heights Rehabilitation Center to result in increased revenue, more efficient patient care, and productive staff.