Here in New England, a good dose of early spring rain is sure to help wash away what we hope will be the last vestiges of snow and winter. That fifty-degree liquid sunshine is enough to get us all thinking about cleaning out the garage and getting things together for some summer fun. But what about that locked closet? You know, the one where the blinking lights, tangled cables, and empty boxes are piled high to the ceiling.
Go ahead, open the door. It’s time to get your arms around your infrastructure.
Spring is the perfect time for an IT assessment because more than ever before, a medical practice’s success is tied to technology. Now we’ve heard the argument over and over….”IT is a necessary evil. All I need is my EMR. My computer network doesn’t have to be that complicated.”
That may be true but if an up to date and optimized infrastructure could result in your ability to generate more income by seeing more patients every day, it’s time for an assessment.
OAL WAS GOING AWOL
“We felt like we were spending too much time saying how much will this cost, not how will this make us better,” says Bill Weik, Chief Executive Officer of Orthopedic Associates of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1972, OAL is one of the most respected medical practices in the state. The organization went paperless is 2003, one of the first in the country to do so, and the technology challenges began emerging soon after that.
“We were one of those companies that were big enough to need IT support, but didn’t think it should be that difficult,” says Weik. OAL had already installed a practice management system and email, which met the practice’s needs back then. “When it came to tech support, we had an outsourced company that would come in a couple of days a week. But when we installed a PACS system in 2006, we decided we wanted an internal resource.”
THE BEST LAID PLANS
“Our guy was trying to be the network engineer, the desktop manager and more. He fixed things and did things that proved to be detrimental over time to our existing systems. It was like putting a bandage on a serious infection.” It was time for spring cleaning.
OAL sought advice from a business partner, the Chief Information Officer for the hospital with whom they were aligned. He recommended a well-respected IT and networking consultant with ties to the local healthcare community. They served as the hospital’s IT networking partner and not only understood the complexities of current healthcare technology needs but could project five and ten years into the future. They recommended, then implemented the following:
- A complete IT site assessment to define operational goals and identify current technology gaps.
- A networking, switching, routing and security review to evaluate against best practices and create a road map to leverage IT as a competitive advantage.
- A PC, server, and user device inventory that included assessment of hardware condition, expandability, life expectancy, and replacement cost.
“They submitted a proposal to overhaul every server and every PC,” says CEO Weik. The IT assessment also included a maintenance and replacement schedule as well as an outsourced monitoring and support plan. “The consultant made IT work for us, instead of us working for the IT department. Since we’re so technology dependent, we got beyond the frustrations. Now, we’re running our business, and IT’s there to support it.”
WHERE DO I BEGIN?
Technology refresh decisions can be daunting. So start with an IT assessment and bringing in an outside consultant is the best way to approach it. Why? Each team member inside your practice has their own unique perspective but that perspective can come with tunnel vision as it’s clouded by their work. They’re too close to the subject matter. A third-party consultant brings a second set of eyes and is better able to provide a fair, accurate, and comprehensive assessment of your IT systems, processes, and infrastructure. They don’t have a pre-existing bias.
Best Practices for IT Assessments
Whether conducted internally or by an outside expert, IT assessments should always follow standard best practices:
- Conduct a complete evaluation of all IT systems. A partial assessment of a specific IT system or process is sometimes warranted (e.g., a security assessment), but for an overall IT assessment, you need to be sure you’re looking at the complete picture. This should include a complete cataloging of organizational infrastructure hardware. Including the condition of existing assets, their expected lifespan, and estimated replacement cost.
- Engage key decision makers. You want your managing partners and other clinicians to be on board with findings and open to the idea of upgrading IT assets and systems to improve efficiency and cut costs. Interviews with organizational stakeholders are essential for defining IT operational goals and identifying current technology gaps, which helps to drive your strategic road map post-assessment.
- Talk to end users about problems, challenges. As mentioned above, IT weaknesses are commonly discovered by evaluating performance in other places. You might find that your front desk people are frustrated by their outdated software or that information silos are prohibiting effective collaboration.
- Evaluate current systems against industry best practices. Is your practice in compliance with HIPAA guidelines? You might discover that you’re out of compliance, but that means you can take immediate corrective action.
- Conduct risk and impact analyses. An IT assessment should include an evaluation of risks and impacts of IT as it stands as well as the overall impacts of recommended upgrades and changes. What do you stand to lose if you choose to maintain the status-quo?
- Provide comprehensive results reporting and recommendations. A good IT assessment includes an in-depth analysis of the findings and results as well as recommendations for specific improvements that eliminate the challenges you’re facing. What are the suggested next steps? You should have an actionable plan of attack following an IT assessment.
WHAT TIME IS IT WHERE YOU WORK?
The flowers are blooming and healthcare professionals have awakened from their winter slumber to assess and refresh.
Spring is time for taking an IT assessment and a fresh look around. Fight through that urge to push off today what you can do tomorrow. Your “IT garage” is waiting.