Dating Your Technology Partners: A Framework for Evaluating Your Relationships

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It’s growing late, and the entree has long been cold. Familiar thoughts hang in the air: Is this what’s best for me? Are they here for the right reasons? Am I showing too much interest? Not enough? Do they really think this will work?
No, this isn’t a recap of the latest episode of The Bachelor — it’s just the latest in a string of meetings you’ve had with a potential technology partner promising a return on your monthly investment in their solution. And, after a lengthy courtship, you’re left wondering if you’re making the right decision for yourself, your staff, and your practice.
The sheer number of companies dotting the healthcare information technology landscape is daunting; for every technical, operational, and growth problem you have today, there are ten solutions to choose from. Whether you’re sifting through a seemingly endless number of online scheduling and patient engagement tools or running a cost-benefit analysis of a coding service versus a digital check-in software, finding the right partner for your practice can be among the most difficult tasks on your plate, second only to treating patients.
Previously, we talked about the tools you must have to be successful in the risk-based world we find ourselves in. Now, we get back to basics: What’s the best way to think about the value technology partners bring to the practice setting? Here’s a simple framework for evaluating your technology partnerships and creating the ecosystem of tools your practice will leverage to deliver quality patient care.

Define your goals and/or the problem(s) you’re trying to solve

This is easier said than done, and it requires some soul-searching. You’ve likely thought about these before now, but it helps to write them down so you can see how the tools you’re considering align with your priorities. Along those same lines, many products on the market today might be shiny objects: sleek, modern, highly attractive, but totally irrelevant to your practice’s needs and pain points.
Ask yourself (and your staff) these questions before you commit to a long-term relationship:

  • What are the practice’s priorities?
  • Are we in growth mode, or are we angling for success in risk contracts? Both?
  • Where do we want to be in five years?
  • What is the marketplace demanding, e.g. what are your payers asking you to plan for?
  • What services do we want to offer?
  • What feedback are we getting from your patients (on review sites, surveys, etc.)?
  • What are our operational pain points?

Take time to understand the product’s functionalities, and how they impact your operations

Once you’ve outlined your goals, you’ll be ready to tackle the products themselves. You’ll find that there are many possible suitors, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and all promising to deliver value to you, day in and day out.
Be patient during this period of the courtship. Your objective should be to get under the hood to develop the deepest understanding of the product you possibly can. Things to consider:

  • Who will administer and maintain the product each day?
  • Does it integrate directly with your other tools, eliminating the need to enter data twice?
  • Do any of your current products already offer some or all of the functionality you’re considering now?
  • How much will it change your staff’s daily operating routine? Are they able and willing to use the solution? Getting their buy-in might be the most important part of the entire relationship (and understand that this lever might be the secret to your success).
  • Does the success of this product at your practice depend on patients interacting with it? If so, how will you engage them, and how confident are you they will adopt it?

As in any relationship, the right partner is one with complementary features, making the sum greater than its parts. You should be sure the technologies you’re adopting do the same for your practice and not merely a collection of shiny bells and whistles that will only serve to frustrate your staff and patients while costing you money.

Understand the total costs of the solution to maximize returns

Knowing the total cost of adopting a product is perhaps the most important aspect of assessing the opportunity the relationship represents to you. A careful analysis of both the cost components — some of which are upfront, some of which are hidden — and the revenue opportunity available to your practice should be completed before a deal is inked.
Some questions to ask include:

  • Can the cost of the product scale down as volume scales up?
  • How does your payer mix affect reimbursement for services rendered using the product?
  • Do you actually have a revenue problem to solve? In other words, do you have a revenue collection problem big enough to offset the cost of the product?
  • Does it simply accelerate cash flow or will it generate additional revenues?
  • Are there additional costs or savings attributed to the product? That is, will staff spend more or less time executing a particular duty by using this product?
  • Can you/ you accommodate the extra office visits the product promises to deliver to your practice, and if so, how will you? For example, if this is a scheduling tool, do you have the capacity (schedule supply) to see more patients? Or will the cost of staffing your office be more than the revenue you expect to generate with the tool?

Relationships can be expensive. Take your time to understand both sides of the financial equation (costs and revenues) upfront, to avoid a messy, costly split later on.
While we’re on the subject of relationships and technology, be sure to read “It’s Not Me, It’s You: Breaking Up With Your EHR” where you’ll find seven helpful tips to improve you and your electronic health record’s partnership!

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