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Reimbursement and Practice Management

Great Gadgets for Medical Groups

Regardless of the integration with current information systems, physicians around the country are taking advantage of the benefit that technology gadgets can offer.


In this article, you will learn how to:

  • Assess effective use of portable digital devices
  • Use software and web technology, like patient portals, to increase efficiency and engage patients
  • Use technology to improve communication with other specialists, referring physicians, and patients

View related pearls


Specialists have unique needs for technologies that help automate many common functions – from capturing charges to viewing radiologic images. Fortunately, there is an array of software and devices – all under the umbrella of “gadgets” – to help get the job done. Not only can these various solutions improve workflow, but they also can remove costly errors associated with data entry, reduce costs and boost your practice’s revenue cycle.

Some gadgets may be operable with your current electronic health record (EHR) and practice management (PM) systems. Others can be used as standalone products to bring value to you and your practice. An added bonus is that several gadgets are targeted to help you access and enter data even when you’re away from your practice.

Regardless of the integration with your current information systems, physicians around the country are taking advantage of the benefit that technology gadgets offer – here’s what they are using:

Mobile charge capture. Missing charges, particularly for services performed out of the office, are a common cause of revenue leakage for specialists. If the charges are captured manually, transferring data from paper to the PM system consumes hundreds of hours of staff time annually. Manual rekeying of information also introduces the likelihood of errors and omissions. Whether you are off site or in an office suite without connections to the PM or EHR system from every exam room, mobile charge capture software can help. Many systems on the market enable physicians to enter patient billing information on a handheld device, such as a smartphone or tablet. Most can be uploaded to your practice’s information management systems via a wireless interface, allowing charges to be captured seamlessly. In addition to billing and coding support, these mobile devices can often be configured to maintain your hospital and surgery center patient lists.

Portable coders. Software can help to not only capture and enter charges using a handheld device, but also to provide coding support to assist you in selecting the appropriate procedure and diagnosis codes. Offered as an integrated solution or a standalone, Web-based application, remote coding programs allow the user to search a coding database to find the correct CPT, ICD-9 and ICD-10 codes, as well as modifiers, that best describe the encounter and corresponding documentation.

Patient portals. Web-based patient portals allow patients convenient online access to an array of services from your practice. Patients can inquire about appointment availability, communicate with you regarding a clinical question, and request a prescription renewal. Online bill payment – a key feature of a patient portal – can increase the probability of patient payments through easing the collections process. It also can save money by eliminating paper billing statements, typically a cost in excess of $7,500 per physician each year. For the practice, these added efficiencies help manage operational costs while improving patient access.

Social networking. Facebook business pages, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn groups, YouTube videos and other forms of social media are in use by specialists across the country, helping them to market their services and retain their patient base through cost-effective communications strategies. In addition to marketing the practice, social networking tools can reduce the amount of time you and your staff spend on the telephone explaining procedures, illnesses, and other common issues to patients. For example, post a YouTube video featuring you elucidating on complex procedures or reiterating your orders for post-surgical care. In addition to patient communications strategies, specialists are using social media to maintain connections to referring physicians, network with other specialists and recruit new employees.

Registries. Databases containing important patient information – commonly referred to as registries – can help track data about your patients to better understand and support your efforts to proactively the manage the care of your active patient population. In addition to monitoring patient data, a registry can serve as the vehicle to report on quality indicators to insurers – a critical function for specialists in the new era of health care. The technology can range from basic database software to sophisticated applications integrated into your EHR.

QR codes. Quick response (QR) codes are a marketing innovation that is quickly getting traction in the healthcare community. These advanced versions of the long-used barcode can be scanned by any camera-enabled smartphone to quickly connect to a page or, better still, a tool on your website. They also can generate an automated text message from you to the person’s smartphone, or dial your telephone number for the user. They can even “store” a patient handout. Specialists may find that placing QR codes on brochures, signs, business cards, advertisements and other printed matter helps patients link to your practice. Indeed, the QR code could lead patients directly to online appointment scheduling or a “virtual” video tour of your practice.

Kiosks. Kiosks, familiar sites at airports, are showing up in specialists’ offices. A kiosk is both a labor-saver for your staff and a convenience for patients. This device offers a quicker check-in process for patients who appreciate not standing in line at the reception desk. Where kiosks are enabled to read the insurance cards of major insurance carriers, they provide a faster way for your staff to accurately determine the expected copayment on the front end of the visit and, possibly, access needed patient benefits eligibility information. A kiosk is not limited to the traditional free-standing, touch-screen terminal; it also can be an iPad or Android tablet or other handheld device.

iPads. Used by nearly two-thirds of U.S. physicians, this Apple product has become a device in a category unto itself.1 Featuring a “retina display,” a 9.7-inch screen which has a resolution of 2048 x 1536, the latest iPad on the market offers near-instant access to quality images, a useful tool for specialists who are constantly reviewing and referencing radiologic images. With voice recognition capabilities, dictation is an option for physician users who also enjoy a processor that rivals that of any personal computer. iPads offer much more today than the ability to reference a drug formulary or a medical calculator. The combination of high-speed internet, increased graphics capability and processing speed – along with thousands of applications that can be downloaded instantly – makes the iPad a tool that has almost endless uses for specialists.

Auxiliary devices. Supporting your gadgets can’t be overlooked. External battery packs, USB ports, docking stations, keyboards and other auxiliary devices are as important as the gadget itself. To be successful, these peripheral accessories must be cost-effective, portable and easy to use and store. Of course, don’t forget about the hardware as well. Gadgets are only effective if they have the storage and processing needed in today’s fast-paced environment.

Whether you choose to call them gadgets, tools or solutions, an array of devices and software programs are now available that can make your practice – and you – more efficient.

Tools offered by patient portals:

  • Pre-visit registration forms
  • Medical history forms
  • Prescription renewal requests
  • Appointment requests
  • Online bill payment
  • Secure, electronic messaging

Pearl 4/22/13

You're e-Hired
Linkedin.com features networking opportunities for professionals of all industries. You can join groups of physicians trained in your specialty or network with those who share a similar interest. Increasingly, this social networking website is also being used by physicians to recruit employees. From open positions in the front office to the practice administrator, available jobs in your practice can be announced at no cost on LinkedIn to attract candidates.

Pearl 4/15/13

Quick to QR
You may have been prompted to snap an image of a square, black and white image with your smartphone to learn more about a special event or get a coupon. These QR codes, now ubiquitous in the retail industry, are being used by physicians in creative ways. The codes are simple and fast to create with free QR code generators (www.qrcode.kaywa.com or www.qrstuff.com). Use these two-dimensional barcodes to link patients to your practice’s website to view, for example, a video with you highlighting recommended care instructions, directions to your practice, or patient educational material. With this free tool you can gain efficiencies and “wow” your patients.

Pearl 4/8/13

In the Cloud
In a client-server environment, the system functions in a contained, on-site data center. Cloud-based technology means that information systems – and the data contained in them – reside securely in a remote data warehouse, accessible online. Most of us already work in a “cloud.” If you’ve ever uploaded a document in Google, for example, you’ve been in a cloud. For many, cloud-based technology – often referred to as “software as a service” (SAAS) – is a great choice because it’s less expensive. Cloud-based technology is essentially a rental model, while client server features ownership. Cloud-based benefits go beyond the financial ones. Off-site access is a quick and easy. Upgrades and patches are managed centrally. There is one significant drawback, however: The cloud can disappear in an instant if your Internet goes down. Be sure to have a back-up plan in the event of a lost connection.

Pearl 4/1/13

Serving Up the FAX
You may not consider your fax machine to be a candidate for an upgrade, but this device is often overlooked for reengineering during technology conversions. If your fax is still spitting out paper required for stakeholders that aren’t connected to your information systems (a reference laboratory, for example), even in the midst of a paperless practice, it’s an opportune time to evaluate a fax server.

Fax servers can automate the sending and receiving of documents, eliminating the last vestiges of paper in your practice. Fax servers have many benefits beyond just eliminating paper. Documents can be seamlessly uploaded into your information systems or automatically routed to intended users; images can be viewed off-site via an Internet connection; and perhaps most importantly, both inbound and outbound faxes can be logged, monitored, and audited. To be successful, your fax server must be able to handle your volume effectively, integrate with your current information systems, and add value to your workflow.

Reference
  1. Manhattan Research’s Taking the Pulse US 2012 Study

 

United States