Ancil Lea: This’ll Only Sting A Little

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 129 views 

Editor’s note: Ancil Lea, author of this guest commentary, has worked with more than 1,500 physicians, clinics, out-patient surgery centers, and hospitals to help with everything from medical software to healthcare marketing for nearly 30 years. He is the former coordinator for the Arkansas Office of Health Information Technology.

When the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) went into effect in 2009, it meant physicians and hospitals were faced with implementing new technology or receiving a cut in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. Most went along with searching for, buying and implementing electronic health records and other systems.

And why not? The federal government provided the financing. But that was only half of the story. What came along with “meaningful use” was a mound of paperwork, frustration and cost that has caused many medical practices to merge with others or become part of a hospital-owned cadre of medical providers (employees), or worse, leave the profession entirely. Add ACOs, PCMHs and various other alphabet-soup names, and it’s more than most physicians and staff can handle.

But change has come.

Historically, healthcare has lagged behind in adopting new technology. When I began working in healthcare technology in 1988, most clinics were without any form of computerized management system, and most hospitals only used computers for billing. Doctors and staff were hesitant to use computers—even systems that would enable them to schedule patients, file insurance and generate statements more easily.

Yet the change to computerized systems eventually allowed even the smallest clinics to become more productive and robust in what they could accomplish for the bottom line and patient health and well-being.

We face the same issues today.

Though new technologies and processes within clinics and hospitals may seem like an unnecessary pain, I believe they will prove their worth over the next 10 to 15 years. However difficult the transition seems right now, these changes will allow healthcare providers to offer better care and support to every person who walks through the doors or logs in online.

The use of smartphones could be the game-changer in this world of unsettled change—whether it’s to communicate with colleagues, staff or even patients. There is so much potential to transcend the norm of regular communication, care delivery, transition care, billing, scheduling, e-visits and more.

The trick is to find the solution that works for each practice — and what is best for the patients. If you’re a healthcare provider who has implemented a system that is failing, be strategic in your next selection or solution fix.

Also, make sure that whatever you choose integrates with smartphone technology and patient engagement. Communicating with your patients and keeping that trusted relationship is key to your continued success. Technology can and should be a part of that critical engagement.