Friday, April 5, 2013

Tips for Doing Business in the Healthcare Sector

Four Tips for Doing Business in the Healthcare Sector

For just about everyone on the outside looking in, the healthcare sector can be a strange and puzzling place. It raises big picture questions, such as how can the U.S. spend twice as much as other countries on healthcare and yet do worse on key metrics such as average life expectancy? There are also practical questions, such as why are so many paper forms still in use? Then there are head-scratchers, such as why do some hospitals that treat heart disease have a McDonald’s in lieu of a cafeteria? So many questions.

Nonetheless, for IT solution providers willing to invest some time and energy, the healthcare sector can provide a wealth of opportunities. CompTIA recently published its 4th Annual Healthcare IT Insights and Opportunities research study to take the pulse of the small- and mid-size physician practice to better understand where opportunities may lie. A few key takeaways include:

1. Connect the Dots Between Technology Solutions and Healthcare Provider Needs.

The importance of information technology to healthcare providers continues to trend upwards – a net 89 percent of physicians and other providers now rate IT as important/very important to their practice. And yet, when asked about key strategic priorities for the year ahead, technology initiatives do not make the top five. Healthcare providers cite needs such as controlling operational costs, improving workflow efficiencies, enhancing staff productivity and implementing better risk management/compliance safeguards at the top of the list. The takeaway: It’s imperative to connect the dots between technology solutions and business objectives.

2. Satisfaction with IT is Good, but Not Great…Which Means Opportunity.

Healthcare providers give generally satisfactory marks for the core IT in use at their practice. Sixty-six percent report being very or mostly satisfied. These are solid marks. However, it does mean one in three healthcare providers are at least somewhat dissatisfied with some aspect of the technology in use at their practice. Areas of greatest frustration include: EMR/EHR systems, computers (general), billing and collection systems, fax machines, networks / slow Internet / downtime and printers.

IT solution providers able to deliver superior reliability, performance, customer service or cost savings can capitalize on the segment of customer most receptive to improvement.

3. Recognize the Two Primary Types of EMR/EHR Customer…and Target Accordingly.

The transition to electronic medical records ) remains a critical step in modernizing the U.S. healthcare system, as does the broader concept of electronic health records. Several years into the transition, significant progress has been made on many fronts. The data suggests there are now two primary types of customer:

Customer Type A: Healthcare practices in this category have deployed some form of EMR/EHR system. According to CompTIA data, 43 percent of practices report having a comprehensive system in place, while 20 percent have a partial system or modules in place. Many adopters in this segment are now in the phase of optimization and working towards stage 1 or possibly stage 2 of meaningful use. According to the research, one of the most challenging aspects of achieving meaningful use stems from interoperability requirements, such as information exchange or integration with outside systems like an e-prescribing application. Targeting this customer segment may entail focusing on troubleshooting, end-user training, integration work, refining compliance and security protocols and adding capabilities such as mobile access.

Customer Type B: Practices that have not yet adopted EMR/EHR tend to be very small – often one or two physicians. They tend to be classified as independents – the segment of approximately 39 percent of practices unaffiliated with a hospital or health system. And, demographically, they tend to skew towards older physicians, according to the CDC. Many practices are not fully prepared for an EMR/EHR deployment – two-thirds of healthcare providers acknowledge this. Additionally, 40 percent indicate EMR/EHR implementation was worse than expected. Keeping in mind the next wave of EMR/EHR customer will be even less tech-savvy, IT solutions providers should be prepared to spend plenty of time explaining the implementation process, keeping technical complexity behind-the-scenes, proactively troubleshooting and building in time for end-user training.

4. Managed Services is a Good Fit for Many Healthcare Providers, but Awareness is Low.

In the healthcare sector, like most industry sectors, management of the IT function is highly correlated with size. Small healthcare practices, without the resources for full-time IT staff, tend to manage IT with a do-it-yourself approach, occasionally calling in an IT solution provider for more sophisticated work. Despite approximately one in five healthcare providers reporting utilizing some form of managed IT services, the research suggests awareness and understanding of the managed services model is on the low side. In some cases, there is even a slight negative perception of the term managed services because of its similarity to managed care, which is viewed unfavorably by some healthcare providers.

While the managed services model may not be suited for everyone, it does address a few key requirements of healthcare providers: The need to maximize system/software reliability and uptime, security, predictable costs and defined customer support. Unfortunately, there is no easy path to raising awareness of the managed services model other than investing the time in customer education and relationship building. MSPs taking these steps improve their odds of success.

For many more insights from the research, CompTIA members can access the full report at no cost by logging into the CompTIA member resource center and visiting the research page.

CompTIA SmartBrief