What You Should Know About Updating Office Software

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By Robert Smith, Contributing Editor

Upgrading your office technology can give you a host of ailments, both real and imagined. First, there’s the headache associated with researching and selecting a system that’s right for your practice. Then there’s the whiplash that occurs at the thought of keeping up with the daunting pace of that technology—its configuration and interminable upgrades. Lastly, there’s the churning of the stomach that happens once everything is in place, as you mull over whether you made the right decision. Of course, the decision to embrace practice management technology is one that you must make at some point. The DOS-based billing and reporting systems and penciled-in appointment books of old are no longer sufficient to handle the needs of even small practices. The inefficiencies and costs of maintaining an antiquated system are ones no practice—regardless of size—can afford for long. Hal Ornstein, DPM, recently upgraded the DOS-based system at his New Jersey practice. “I should’ve gotten rid of it years ago,” admits Dr. Ornstein. “If I had wanted to do a production report for the week, it took one to two hours to print and I couldn’t view it on the screen. From a tracking standpoint, it was absolutely terrible. “Now with the crunch of managed care and such, it’s critical that we run our numbers and see the cost per patient, as well as what our volume is. For example, if you’re going to accept a managed care contract, you need to know what it costs per patient to be seen in your practice and what kind of contract you need.” What New Software Can Bring To Your Practice Indeed, the many practice management applications provide doctors a host of valuable features and options unheard of as recently as a few years ago. No two systems are exactly alike, so you need to select the system that best suits your practice. Some features to consider include the following: • Enterprise-wide access to patient records. You and your assistants working on multiple terminals can access records simultaneously. • Scheduling. Patients can schedule appointments over the Internet. • Automated e-mail and referrals. Patients e-mailing questions can get an immediate automated response. Similarly, referral letters can be generated, based on selections made in patient records. • Online prescriptions. You can generate scripts on a terminal and have them added to the patient’s record. • Billing features. You and your staff can expedite online billing in accordance with your practice’s needs, as well as all pertinent regulations. Such features create greater efficiencies in a podiatry practice, which is a positive aspect on many levels, particularly when considering the sheer volume of patients you must see on any given day. Why It’s Critical To Overcome Fears Of New Technology Still, Raymond Posa, the founder of R. Francis Associates, a Belmar, N.J.-based medical consultancy, encounters some DPMs who resist the pull of using new tools. “There are two essential classes of doctors out there,” points out Posa. “The ones who are really into (using technology) are very easy to guide, to show how certain features and applications will make them more efficient. The ones that don’t care for technology are more of a challenge. I show them what it will do for their bottom line, how it will make their staff more efficient, relieving the stress on the staff and making them more productive employees. They see the benefit in that.” He also shows them how they are compelled by federal regulations to take greater care with their records, care that new office technology can expedite. “One of the primary requirements of HIPAA is that patient records must be protected,” notes Posa. “You need to know if one of your employees is snooping around looking at things he or she shouldn’t be looking at. At a minimum, a practice management system must log each user, track where they go and be able to print a log of that information. That feature is what separates a lot of the packages out there—many of them are just basic billing programs. Those are just not going to be sufficient.” Addressing Cost Concerns While cost is certainly an important factor in selecting a system, going for the lowest-priced option can actually prove exceedingly costly in the long run. “You get some systems that are really inexpensive, (systems) that you can’t grow with,” points out Dr. Ornstein. “That’s what people do.

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