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Some doctors' smart system

Some doctors' smart system

A hand, elbow, and shoulder surgeon this morning offered some great ideas of how to go about considering a technology purchase for a small business. The doctor and two partners run their clinic inside a very large hospital in midtown Manhattan. They take notes on patients by hand (no pun intended), so, in between pulling and poking and twisting arms, they scribble their assessments on printed slips of paper, which go into manila folders. A gaggle of office workers then use those hand-written forms to file all the appropriate insurance and other claims, then tuck them away in file cabinets.

It's the way they've been doing it for years, and it works well enough. But they're going to spend thousands of dollars on an electronic medical records system from a company such as ClinicSuite or ChartLogic so that they can enter the information electronically rather than on paper while they're with the patients. They don't know how much money, if any, they'll save, but they're convinced it will save them hassles. For example, there are strict federal guidelines about the types of information they have to collect, and if they ever get audited, you can imagine the man-hours of trying to track down every sheet they ever filled out on thousands of patients. Compare that to just handing over a couple of computer disks.

The doctor pointed out that they could also make money by sometimes being able to bill at a higher level, because the software will ask questions and help them fill out fields they might not consider otherwise. It could mean another $20 or so for any given patient, which over a year could be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Not to mention the savings of chasing down lost slips of paper or fixing incorrectly transcribed info.

Here's the trick they're going to use in deciding on a system: Each of the three doctors is going to take a half-day off and individually try out systems the vendors will bring in. Then they'll confer and compare notes. The beauty of this approach is that, rather than relying on a salesperson or looking at the equipment together--and being unduly influenced by each other--they'll each push, poke, and prod and come up with their own questions and thoughts on what works (or doesn't) for their business.

And they're going through another key part of the process any small business does with a major technology purchase: considering the particulars of how the technology will apply in a very real-world way. For example, the doctor pointed out, if they get a desktop computer, they will seem less personal because, rather than looking at a patient and jotting notes, they'll be leaning over to the side to type into a keyboard. But he's worried that tablet PCs, which could solve that problem, are easy to steal. The office is inside the gargantuan Roosevelt Hospital, which gets tons of foot traffic. ChartLogic uses voice recognition, but how would it affect your feelings if your doctor were talking into a headset while you talked to him or her? I hope he lets me know which system they decided on, and why.

In the meantime, the moral of the story, I think, is that it's worth it to get the technology you need, but you also have to systematically consider your needs and how you'll evaluate the technology, before you buy.