Revenues decline. Expenses increase. Technology investment required. Security risk at an all-time high. These are just some of the challenges facing independent medical practices of all sizes emerging into a post-COVID world. These realities are forcing organizations to look at new ways of doing business, forcing many to re-focus on just caring for patients and leaving the rest to others.
One answer…Managed Service Providers (MSPs)
While businesses outside of healthcare have been forced to deal with the challenges of a remote workforce, the independent medical office has had to accelerate its dependence on technology, specifically telehealth, just to keep the doors open. Managing and maintaining the crucial technology infrastructure to support it has gone beyond the means (both financially, strategically, and tactically) of even the most technically savvy practitioner. Enter the MSP.
Patrick Streck is President of baytechIT, one of the nation’s only healthcare-centric Managed Service Providers.
What is the value of an MSP to a healthcare practice?
Doctors do medicine. They don’t do information technology. Part of the value of a managed service provider is that we allow for scale, up or down, depending on demand. It’s impractical to think that even a large medical practice can justify carrying full-time technical specialists in servers, networks, and telephony.
The reality is that while practice will have discrete needs for each skill multiple times a year (and more so during the pandemic), it’s not something that will consume 8 hours a day every day. Instead, MSPs are aggregators of knowledge and skill that can be shared and distributed across a broad client base in the appropriate quantity, and at the right time. Due to this flexibility, contracting with an MSP often represents an opportunity for significant savings.
One of our clients, prior to partnering with us (and before COVID), had a full-time two-person IT staff with operating costs between $150,000 to $175,000 per year. By partnering with us, they were able to reduce their annual IT support expense to under $100,000 while realizing a higher level of support and service, deep engineering skills, 24×7 monitoring, and technicians available on demand. In essence, they combined cost savings with improvement inefficiency. Once the pandemic hit, IT staffing scaled up or down based on need and the practice was able to realize the benefits of not having to carry a full-time staff.
It’s great when we help a client save on unnecessary expenses, but we don’t always look through that lens. MSPs offer increased operational efficiency and the opportunity to work with a partner that will help “future proof” a business. Beyond cost savings, MSPs have an obligation to help their clients stay current on technology, partnering with them to evolve their environment in anticipation of what’s to come.
Are MSPs all created equal?
Quoting from some of our original marketing material, anyone can “fix” a problem, but it takes a specialist to diagnose, heal, and implement change for the long-term.
Many MSPs are generalists, serving everyone from the local insurance agency to the small manufacturing company down the street. Healthcare IT is all we do, period. We understand how a medical practice works, what IT systems are absolutely critical to daily operations, the sensitivities around patient privacy and data security, and perhaps most importantly, what clinicians want and need to do their jobs in these most difficult times. We truly understand and focus just on healthcare while bringing business savvy and technological depth to the table.
When choosing an MSP, should the price be the primary differentiator?
During the pandemic, when expenses are higher and revenue is lower, it’s easy to say yes but the real answer should be no. Anyone focused on price is missing the point – technology needs to deliver value. Decades of healthcare-related IT experience allow us to accurately estimate practice needs and offer a fixed monthly price that provides access to an entire IT staff of architects and engineers that supply valued strategic and tactical support at no additional cost.
Also, never let a Managed Service Provider lock you into a long-term contract. If you’re not happy, you shouldn’t find yourself contractually obligated to an MSP that isn’t getting the job done. Find someone who operates on a single fixed fee that includes call center access, field service support, and advisory services.
Is a medical practice ever “too small” for an MSP contract?
That depends how you define the word small. For a single practitioner with one or two assistants and an accountant to handle the revenue cycle, you probably don’t need a lot of IT support. Above that, you need to ask yourself a simple question. If your computer network went down for an extended period of time, what would be the effect on your patients and your business?
MSPs are like an insurance policy. You may not realize you need one until it’s too late. “If it ain’t broke, I don’t need to fix or replace it,” is a common refrain from those who choose to handle IT themselves. The COVID crisis has shown us that’s a short-sighted analysis.
How can a practice assess its technology health post-pandemic?
A good MSP will offer a free high-level infrastructure assessment that will help determine if their services might be warranted. The report should reveal vulnerabilities and if nothing else, allow a practice to weigh the cost of support versus the risk of failure.
A typical evaluation should touch on everything from the highly technical, to security lapses, to simple workflow and process. At its most basic level, an assessment should:
- Identify existing IT deficiencies that require remediation
- Provide a high-level roadmap that will increase the scalability, redundancy, and resiliency of the network, and identify potential strategic and economic advantages of a more robust infrastructure
Through on-site analysis and interviews with key organizational stakeholders, the assessment report should define IT operational goals and identify current technology gaps, examine network switching and routing, and include a basic security review, evaluating current systems against industry best practices. The assessment should also include the cataloging of organizational infrastructure hardware which includes an assessment of condition, expandability, life expectancy, and replacement cost.
The healthcare world is a much different place than it was a year ago and Managed Service Providers can play a key role in navigating what will undoubtedly continue to be a fast-changing, technology-dependent world.