The Case for Outsourced IT Services

Technology has changed dramatically in recent years. Our cell phones have become mini-computers that take and store pictures while providing access to email and the internet; many of us can only get from Point A to Point B with the help of a GPS system; and you can access wireless internet connections everywhere from McDonald’s to local coffee shops to hotels to your own home. And just when you think you are up-to-date with the latest technological gadget, something better and faster with more bells and whistles seems to come out.

As difficult as it may seem to keep up with personal technology tools, it can be even more difficult keeping up with all of the technology available to your practice. And with more and more of our readers/clients beginning the process of evaluating EMR/EHRs, understanding those technology options is very important.

The IT infrastructure choices you have and the decisions you make are equally as important (and in some cases can cost just as much) as the actual EMR/EHR software package you select.

Previously, when a practice’s computer system/network included a billing/practice management system, individual PCs and several printers, the need for IT expertise was limited. Many practices simply contracted with a local computer company for as-needed support or perhaps had someone on staff who “was good with computers” and able to keep the system up and running. These IT resources may no longer be adequate as you look to take your practice and your use of technology to the next level.

For many smaller practices, it’s hard to justify a full-time practice IT technician; and for many larger practices, having an in-house IT professional that must be recruited, hired, and managed may seem like an overwhelming task – not to mention the fact that all of their IT eggs are in one basket. What happens when the in-house IT professional resigns?

For those reasons, now may be the time to consider either bringing in an IT consultant or outsourcing your entire IT operation – preferably to an organization that specializes in the medical industry.

Consider the following IT infrastructure areas that must be researched/addressed prior to going live on an EMR/EHR:

1. Wiring/Cabling – what kind of wiring/cabling does your practice currently have and what will be required when you add your EHR system? An experienced IT professional can analyze your current system, determine what is needed to maximize your use of your EMR/EHR, and coordinate the work that must be done to bring your wiring/cabling up to specs prior to installation/go-live.

2. Wireless Access – most consumer wireless networks today provide spotty coverage. Signals weaken as you get farther away from the wireless router or as you go from room to room. While getting dropped from the wireless network may not be that big of a deal to the casual user, it is unacceptable for a physician in the middle of a patient encounter. An experienced IT professional can complete a wireless survey of your facility and make recommendations for strengthening your existing wireless network.

3. Connectivity/Bandwidth – according to www.techterms.com, Bandwidth refers to how much data you can send through a network or modem connection. It is usually measured in bits per second, or “bps.” You can think of bandwidth as a highway with cars travelling on it. The highway is the network connection and the cars are the data. The wider the highway, the more cars can travel on it at one time. Therefore more cars can get to their destinations faster. The same principle applies to computer data — the more bandwidth, the more information that can be transferred within a given amount of time. Once you go live on an EMR, you will be sending a lot more information through your network. You need to make sure you have enough bandwidth so that your entire system does not run “slow.” There are many options available today to increase bandwidth (additional T-1 lines; Metropolitan Area Networks etc.) An experienced IT professional can evaluate your needs, make recommendations, explain the pros and cons of each option and then coordinate installation with all of the parties involved (local phone services, phone vendors etc.).

4. Hardware Selection – there are many decisions that must be made when it comes to the type of hardware you will use (servers, printers, scanners, desktop PCs, laptops, tablet PCs, thin client terminals or actual computers). There are pros and cons to each, and each one may affect some of the other decisions you make in terms of wiring, cabling, bandwidth and connectivity. An experienced IT professional will be able to review the hardware specifications and requirements of the software; explain the pros and cons of each choice; make recommendations and then actually make sure your infrastructure is set up to accommodate the choices you have made.

5. Security – once your patient data is electronic, security of your system takes on a whole new meaning. Areas to consider include wireless security (access points need to have built-in security); firewalls (limits the data that can pass through it and protects a networked server or client machine from damage by unauthorized users); Desktop Security (anti-virus protection; limited access to the internet); and Communication Security (encrypted email and fax capabilities). An experienced IT professional can set up your initial network security and then provide ongoing monitoring services of network servers and PCs to ensure ongoing security.

6. Back-up – many back-up options are available including but not limited to data back-ups to tapes; data back-ups to external hard drives; or data back-ups to offsite data repositories. An experienced IT professional can help you analyze your practice’s needs, make recommendations on the appropriate solution; and help implement that solution for your practice.

At Efficiency in Practice, we offer tips, suggestions and resources for helping you run an efficient and effective medical practice. Sometimes the most efficient and effective thing that you can do is acknowledge that you need outside experience and expertise – and then get it. When it comes to the quick-changing world of technology that is definitely what we would recommend. As a matter of fact, it’s exactly what we did when confronted with upgrading/installing our own new computer system recently.

Do you have any practice IT words of wisdom you’d like to share with our readers? If so, please email me at editor@efficiencyinpractice.com. We’ll include your advice in future issues of Efficiency in Practice as well as post your comments on our blog.



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