How to find the best computer system

Technology should help and not hinder your business, but unfortunately some practices struggle daily with an inefficient IT set-up that they have outgrown or which never really met their needs. So how can you ensure you are able to get the best from a practice management system? Healthcode’s Kingsley Hollis shares these essential dos and don’ts. 

Do start close to home  

Before focusing on technology, carry out an honest appraisal of your practice business and consider what aspects require improvement. 

For example:

Cash. Poor cash flow is one of the commonest causes of company insolvency. To avoid this fate, it is essential to bill promptly and accurately to avoid queries and disputes, track payments effectively and re-allocate shortfalls.

Patient administration. Providing an efficient and responsive service throughout the patient’s journey helps build your reputation and attract more referrals.

Communication. Reliable, efficient and secure lines of communication are an operational necessity, from managing correspondence with patients to staying in touch with other members of the practice team and sharing clinical information when appropriate. 

Information. Accurate, relevant and up-to-date business intelligence about your financial position and current trends supports rational decision-making.

Use this assessment to determine your business priorities and focus on the technology that addresses these goals.

Do test your current IT set-up 

Look at how well your current technology is aligned to your business goals. For example, the ability to generate accurate electronic invoices which include all the information required for processing and payment.  

Rate the technology for how it performs in a range of routine practice tasks, paying particular attention to:

Time. How long, on average, does it take to complete?

Ease of use. Is the system simple and intuitive?

Efficiency. Is there any duplication involved, how much of the work is automated?

Failure rate. How often does something go wrong and what are the business consequences?

Consider whether glitches can be resolved with help from your existing provider or if you need to invest in something better.   

Don’t exclude other members of the team

Consult those who use the system most, such as your secretary or the person responsible for registering patients and billing, about how the process could be more efficient. 

Not only will you obtain a fresh perspective but it will encourage them to engage with any system changes. 

Do set a realistic budget

If you decide that you need to invest in your IT systems, work with your accountant to decide how much you can afford to spend, as well as the tax implications of your investment. 

Be sure to take account of possible costs such as technical support, upgrades, data back-up, additional data storage and adding new users. 

These benefits are included in Healthcode’s subscription, but could blow a hole in your budget if they aren’t part of your financial calculations at the outset.

Don’t think short-term

Technology advances at lightening pace and even sophisticated IT software can date quickly. 

The best defence against your IT systems becoming a costly white elephant is to focus on systems that are both future-proof and scalable. 

Traditional self-hosted software – which you buy and install on your own machine or server –makes this more challenging, because you have to keep pace with upgrades and ensure you are not running an outdated legacy system. 

The alternative is to subscribe to a software as a service (SaaS) solution, such as Healthcode’s ePractice, where the software is hosted by a specialist provider and then accessed securely online. 

With this model, software is managed, upgraded and patched by the provider, ensuring you are using the latest version and can take advantage of new features as they come available, such as mobile apps or new reporting functionality.

An added advantage of this approach is that you can usually start with a basic service and then ‘trade-up’ as your practice expands, without the need to start from scratch. 

Do your research

Once you have decided on your criteria and budget, take time to research the practice management solutions to find the best match. 

To help whittle down the options, it’s a good idea to draw up a table to compare the functionality, features and costs. Ask for recommendations from fellow practitioners too.   

Do find a provider who is on your wavelength

The first requirement of any IT provider you choose to work with is the ability to talk your language, because clear, effective communication is key to finding a solution that meets your particular business concerns and avoiding misunderstandings.

Here are some other important questions to consider:

1 How did they respond to your initial query – excellent customer service from the start?

2 Do they have expertise and a proven track record in the independent health sector?

3 Are they financially stable? Ask for business references, check with Companies House or buy a report from a reputable ratings agency.

4 Do they have the resources to respond quickly to problems and a development team to ensure the system keeps pace with new technology?

5 Can you speak to other users about their experience of system functionality, reliability and customer service?

6 Can you trial the system for a limited period to ensure it meets your needs?

7 What training and technical support can they provide?

8 How will they help you safeguard patient data? See my next point.

Don’t make assumptions about data protection 

Every breach of patient confidentiality risks damaging your reputation and attracting the attention of the GMC, but the loss of patient data might also incur a hefty financial penalty from the Information Commissioner’s Office.  

Data controllers are legally obliged to have appropriate security measures in place to protect personal data, such as password protection, encryption and firewalls. 

They must also ensure the compliance of organisations that process data on their behalf, so before hiring any IT service provider, it’s essential to check they have strict information security safeguards in place, including arrangements for storing data, back-up and recovery. 

Healthcode’s IT security measures include full end-to-end encryption, an enterprise quality infrastructure, which is physically located in the UK, and user credentials. 

Our Information Security Man-agement System complies with ISO/IEC 27001:2013 and we are certified by the Government-backed Cyber Essentials scheme.

Do ensure everyone has relevant training

Every staff member with computer access should be properly trained on the systems they need to use, be given their own user credentials – this should not be shared – and follow the practice’s data protection policies. Training should be included in new staff inductions and refresher training is also a good idea. 

Don’t ignore teething problems – feedback

For anyone used to the established way of doing things, however inefficient, adapting to a new IT system can be challenging and there is a risk of frustration if they find the new system does not live up to their expectations. 

It is important to ask users about their experience and feed any difficulties back to the provider so they can be addressed quickly. If people feel their concerns are being taken seriously, they are more likely to engage with and get the best from a new system.

Do stay switched on 

Return to the areas for improvement you identified at the outset and track your progress. For example, has the new system speeded up invoicing and improved cash flow? Compare before and after to ensure there has been a return on your investment.

Finally, there is a tendency to think ‘job done’ once a new IT solution has gone live, but as we have seen, things can change quickly. 

Ultimately, you can only continue to benefit from your technology if it is aligned to the developing needs of your practice, so it pays to keep an eye on both if you want to succeed in the long term.

Kingsley Hollis (right) is head of business development (ePractice) at Healthcode