The communications platform: Considerations for medical practice administrators
By Mart Woodall
In my experience working with medical practice administrators, it’s apparent they, like most other business managers, face similar challenges associated with setting up an efficient and sustainable practice. Of course, the medical field is a highly-regulated and notoriously litigious industry, which often opens up a whole host of concerns that many other industry business managers may never have to face.
The Prevailing Model: “Good Enough” Isn’t Really
Setting up or switching your communications platform, which consists of components like phone and internet systems/services, cloud data storage, and disaster recovery systems, doesn’t often align with your core focus of operating a profitable business. And while nobody likes headaches, this process is imperative for the optimization of your practice and your bottom line. Not only does this help your practice internally, it improves the customer experience.
Anger often spurs change. In telecom and IT services, this is one of the top reasons clients switch their service. Anger over downtime, slow speeds and poor customer service makes you feel more like a number than a human being. And one of the reasons people are so angry is that nearly 80 percent of business telecom billing contains errors.
When setting up a new practice, vetting vendor choices and the nuances associated with your unique needs often leads to additional unwarranted anxieties. Choosing the right point of contact that aligns their priorities with your company values can ease these frustrations.
Unfortunately, the DIY approach can lead to a “good enough” result, but no one practice administrator can seriously vet the hundreds of carriers available every required functionality of the communication platform. Worse still, the practice administrator becomes one of thousands, if not millions, of customers trying to hold large companies accountable for proper contract execution and support and service standards on their respective accounts. Contacting an industry expert allows them to effectively perform an extensive needs assessment without impeding your day-to-day activities. There is no back and forth among your team. Only peace of mind that an expert with your specific needs in mind is doing a thorough job that hits every mark, from fast, secure internet service focused on HIPAA-compliant, private cloud data storage with multi-line phone systems that actually work?
Communications Services Firms: The Travel Agents of IT and Telecom
So where does a practice administrator even begin to sort out the many vendors, requirements, and technical specifications required for a high-performance medical practice communications platform? It starts with your practice consultant.
Behind the scenes, your practice consultant engages with a one-stop shop, focused on the three areas that cause the most headaches: carrier capabilities and compliance, product support, and customer service. It’s not necessary to directly engage each carrier, whether it’s an internet service provider or a telephone company. Communications services firms exist in a space similar to that of travel agents. They are middlemen who can actually create price, product and service synergies (another way of saying “value”). You want them “in-the-way,” protecting you from all of the pitfalls of IT and telecom management. The fact is, while each type of system used by a medical practice should be cutting-edge and high-performing, that isn’t always the case. 100% efficiency and optimization should be the goal.
So, when you engage the communications realm in this manner, you create a single vendor from a list of five to 10, a single point of contact, with a local number, as opposed to a list of toll-free lines to call and get in the queue for service or support.
No More Troubleshooting, Just Optimizing
The answer to the headaches that plague many business managers, not just practice administrators, can be addressed by using an industry consultant rather than an in-house approach. How can you best spend your time? Is it working with patients and clients or troubleshooting communications systems? Here’s a list of considerations for your medical practice communications platform (a communications services firm can walk you through this checklist, helping you identify your overall system requirements one step at a time):
- Number of users on the internet platform
- Number of phone lines required for users and designated channels like “speak to a nurse,” “get a prescription refill,” or “make an appointment”
- Types of phone equipment to be used (desk phones, mobile phones, pagers)
- Number and types of devices in use for the internet (desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones)
- Types of software running on the system (practice management, appointments/scheduling, billing/payments, electronic health records, patient engagement portals)
- Cloud storage requirements
- Privacy requirements
- Security requirements
- Disaster/recovery requirements
- Specific healthcare regulatory requirements (e.g. HIPAA)
And if you’re in an existing practice, looking to do better, a full audit of your communications platform will usually reduce your costs from 15 to 35 percent, on top of the improved equipment, support, and service. Higher performance at a greater value is a recipe for sustained success.
The bottom line is that the world of practice management is improving. Technology, in the hands of capable professionals, can help you achieve great outcomes for your patients and your practice team. Remember, you don’t have to do it all yourself.
Mart Woodall is the founder of Communicare Technology Solutions, an information technology and telecommunications services firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina.