I was recently asked to comment on best practices for physicians and Advance Practice Providers (APP) considering the purchase of new technology for their independent practice. With 2022 still largely ahead of us, it’s good timing for a topic that may be on your business to-do list this year. Let me first start with an admitted bias. I love technology and have always been an early adopter, whether it was a Palm Pilot, BlackBerry, smartphone, Kindle, iPads or videoconferencing (long before the pandemic). Yet, I know that purchasing tech on a broader scale, namely software for healthcare practices, can be difficult and user non-friendly. (Well, perhaps that last comment is a veiled reference to my ongoing frustration at the lack of interoperability of various healthcare software platforms and reporting systems.)

The evolution of technology demands its ongoing consideration, and it’s important to note that, in large part, patients-consumers are driving the need for new healthcare IT. While telehealth comes to mind, several of our own members practices (non-ophthalmologists) have been doing retinal eye exams using digital retinal cameras for several years now. In general, there is an ever-growing area of patient-facing products, including those for continuous glucose, weight, blood pressure and EKG remote monitoring, that I believe will soon take center stage and should be on your radar.

Among its primary roles, technology in its multiplicity of forms, is the vehicle for communication between health care professionals, health systems, patients, their caregivers, community organizations and even the payer. As payers introduce value-based contracting, it will also be necessary for the practice to track their utilization and costs using technology, not to mention the tech needed for capturing compliance with existing and future regulatory mandates such as electronic prescribing of controlled substances.

Practice management systems are critically important to track revenue and monitor payer activity but there’s rarely a universal solution – because if you’ve seen one practice, you’ve seen one practice. The best technology is practice specific and considers the practice population, the community itself – including access to consistent broadband – and the financial strength of the practice. Invest too little and you may not have the proper technology that can ‘grow’ along with the practice. Invest too much and you have more technology than you need, with untapped capabilities or hard to navigate options.

A word of caution here: purchasing or investing in first generation products can be risky unless the vendor is willing to use the practice as a demonstration or pilot site. This is where the benefit of a physician organization membership absolutely comes into play, because POs are often in a better position to assess value, identify the minimum options needed in the tech platform, and negotiate a better deal due to economies of scale. Plus, POs can assist in training staff and evaluating patient data and outcomes to help drive practice improvement. Further, many practice transformation activities focus on workflows and processes, requiring a clinical model to integrate well with a changing business model.

Now that you’ve had a primer on tech purchase considerations, be sure and do your own research. Don’t make any snap decisions. Ask for survey results from current users with similar practices. Request a trial period to minimize risk. Read the Best in KLAS reports. (KLAS works with providers and payers on healthcare transparency issues.)

Despite our organization’s significant experience in healthcare IT, we’ve had a few sour experiences that we’ve learned from. The one that comes to mind first is when we purchased a license for a new patient registry and then assisted the vendor in enhancing the tool and its reporting function. Our reward was a 20% increase at renewal time due to the improvements made to the original version. I think of it as taking a hit for HIT, but of course we renewed – and immediately adopted the previously mentioned cautionary stance on first generation products.