Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top 10 mistakes that Doctors make in choosing medical software

Choosing which program to buy to run your medical practice has never been easy. Earlier , it was because there were very few programs available. Today, ironically, it is because there are too many !  Doctors are very confused as to which program they should buy – sometimes, too much choice can be as bad as too little !

Doctors have some special character traits which software producers need to be aware of !

a. To be able to treat a patient and be confident that your decision is right requires tremendous self confidence, which means doctors often have a big ego. Many take the approach that they are always right - even in a field like computer technology !
b. Doctors have a tremendous thirst to learn. Years of med school training allows you to pick up knowledge quickly and most doctors who want to buy software are quite knowledgeable about computers. However, sometimes a little knowledge can be dangerous , and often what doctors know about computers and software leaves a lot to be desired
c.     Doctors are pressed for time, and hence their decisions are based on the fact that “anything that does not gel with me is going to hamper me”. Rather than try to improve their workflow with the help of computers, they’d rather stick to their old dysfunctional habits, even if this hampers their efficiency.

Doctors who wish to enhance their practice and provide better care and service to their patients by using technology are on the right track. Unfortunately, they don’t always go about it the right way.  Some of the important mistakes doctors make are highlighted below.

1. Wanting too many bells and whistles:
Some doctors want their software to do everything for them - even pay their taxes (Just joking ! ). Sometimes putting too many things in your software tends to delay its deployment and make it too complicated to use . Often, some doctors will end up not buying any program at all, because it does not have everything which they want – which means they deprive themselves of a great opportunity of improving their efficiency in 80% of their practice. For example , some doctors want the entire drug database of 15000 drugs in their software! Now you know you will never use even 1/100th of these. There are enough online resources to give you these details when you do require this esoteric information. Why load this redundant data in your software and make it slow by cramming it with stuff you will never use ? It’s much more sensible to have a small efficient intelligent drug database which you can grow over time. That’s what we recommend at Technical Dr. Stick to the basics - your aim is to improve your practice - not to solve the world healthcare crises.

2. Trying to save a penny:
It’s a simple fact of life that investment reaps rich rewards. Why haggle over a few dollars and try to find the cheapest option ?  Negotiating is great, but choosing quality, support and peace of mind is far more important than trying a save a few bucks. It’s easy to get a local company to make a simple, unsupported database for you to manage your patient’s addresses. However, in the long run it makes more sense to invest a little more in good software – preferably from a company which is completely focused on the healthcare space. Medical practice is a complex domain , and an software engineer who doesn’t spend time understanding this cannot make a good product. This is why the early successful packages were created by doctors because they did have the right idea. However, they did not have the savvy to remain uptodate with the latest technology. Please stop acting like a miser in choosing a package. Every doctor I know earns enough to invest in a good package which will enhance his practice. Choose your vendor carefully – after all, you want them to be your partners for life, and for this, they need to make enough profit ?.

3. Thinking someone else understand your business:
A lot of doctors tend to put too much trust in what their software vendor is doing for them. They feel he is the computer expert, and know what he is doing ! If a custom built package is being made, unless you provide the vendor with adequate knowledge on your processes, templates , wants and need, the program will never do what you want it to. Garbage In, Garbage Out. I know doctors who just give a brief outline of what they want and leave it at that. Now the vendor is left scratching his head because he does not really understand what is required of him . He muddles through – but what he produces is not what the doctor wanted, which means a lot of time, money and energy is wasted – and the cycle needs to be repeated again. If you want a custom built solution, you need to be very closely involved. You cannot delegate this. You need to provide all the information required personally. More importantly , you need to review and ask for updates from time to time. Often, the project gets needlessly delayed because the doctor realizes  that this was not what he wanted only after the complete package is delivered to him.

4. Losing sight of the basics – KISS :
Your primary aim is to improve your productivity, and you should always keep this in mind! Anything else should come later. For example, we have clients who request Accounts integration in their software.. But delaying an order or cancelling an order based on just this one feature is unjustified. Nice to have is not the same as “essential” – and adding too many features just results in “bloatware”. It is a mistake to want your software to do too many things right from the start. Get what is essential, and build from there.

5. Waiting for something better:
Doctors often keep on waiting for something better to come along. Unless you don’t jump in the water, you aren’t going to learn how to swim ! Some of the best run private hospitals have been early adopters of technology. Today they might still be using legacy systems , but they are much better run than non IT friendly setups. It’s true that software will evolve over time, but you cannot wait for perfection. At Technical Dr, we study and add new items to our list daily – after all, software is always a work in progress, which gets improved and polished incrementally. However, just because you want a Mercedes does not mean you should continue driving a cycle to work ! It is a mistake to wait when you can always upgrade if you want to later on !

6. Thinking your staff shares your vision:
Many good doctors buy the perfect software and then find that it does not help them manage their practice at all . Often  they blame the software for being unfriendly or useless . Most  doctors fail to understand that their staff is one of the key stake holders in this process. Unless the staff uses the software, it is bound to fail. The software may be the best in the world, but if it is not used properly  , it isn’t living upto its potential. Doctors need to be firm and to share their vision for the software with their staff. It is a mistake to assume that software will be easily adopted by support staff, nurses and fellow doctors. Provide lots of training – and if some members refuse to use this, you need to take them to task.

7. Not nurturing innovation:
The biggest stake holders in this industry are the doctors. It is important for them to nurture innovation. Sometimes it is valuable to take a risk or allow a software company to go that extra mile in providing a feature which will change the process flow of your clinic. Doctors who refuse to try out products which provide extra features or new age ideas because they do not understand its utility are closing the door on innovation. A doctor who asks me to block some modules to save money because he feels he will not use them is basically closing his own mind to the potential of using new processes to improve his practise . Do not buy the module in the beginning, but keep an open mind.  Even when doctors do not ask for the SMS or Email Plug-in , we still leave it on the User Interface, because just seeing that button there will make them wish it was active when they want to send out a report or reading instantly. Once they see the value, they can always buy the module later on.

8. Underestimating the complexity of your needs:
Running a clinic is like running a small business. It’s a complex enterprise, and often doctors overerestimate their ability to do a good job. Ideally, you should be focused on taking care of your patients, so your staff can run the clinic. If you find you are spending time on routine administrative tasks, this means you are wasting your time and money. There are only 24 hours is your day – learn to use them sensibly. A good software program will help you to improve your productivity and that of your staff, if you use it to its fullest extent. An integrated program will allow you to do all the tasks needed to ensure your clinic runs smoothly - manage appointments, accounts, inventory, medical records and referrals. Don’t get stuck buying a cheap program which was designed for a small shop – you will end up being unhappy and dissatisfied.

9. Delaying a decisions:
The single biggest mistake a doctor makes in buying software is when he delays his decisions – whether it is thinking about his needs; talking to the vendor; spelling out his requirement; installing the program ; or getting training for his staff. As a result, the vendor is frustrated; the doctor is confused ; the staff is anxious ; and patients continue to remain unhappy. Start small – but start today !

10. Disregarding the hardware:
Hardware always complements your software. As much as the software vendor may try to make his solution lithe (for example, Technical DR products can run on any Windows and Unix system, and even an AMD netbook processor) , if you want the best results, invest in good hardware. Do not be afraid to upgrade your hardware to help enhance the productivity of your medical software – PCs have become very inexpensive these days !

11. Not providing enough time for training.
While doctors understand that learning a new medical procedure can take time, unfortunately, they are not willing to invest the same time in training their staff – and themselves – in learning how to use the software properly.  This can cause a lot of frustration and when this happens, many doctors just give up on the idea of using any software at all, because they feel their staff is too stupid.

Tweaks to make your PC experience better as a Doctor

Today a lot of Doctors are waking up to using the computer, maybe to surf the net, or they own a website or better still have an EMR solution. Below are some tips to help you make your time spent on the PC better.  These include some mundane ideas and thoughts and also some personal insights in what works best. So make your PC experience a good one, because it’s going to last you a life time.

a. Use the Internet: Today almost every PC is bought with the thought of going online. However for those who are hesitant, it is important to remember the usage and experience far outweighs the ghost of virus attacks and vulgar content. From the EMR software point of view, maximum benefit can be derived from our packages by those who have the Internet to send SMSes, Emails or get support directly online.

b. LAN connection in a clinic: For any clinic which is not a single doctor no receptionist, it is ideal to get a LAN connection with another PC to help manage the work. The efficiency of handling patients and workload multiples manifold by the simple move. Creating a LAN is simple enough and your local computer guy will be able to have it running within minutes. Wiring may take some time if it is elaborate or you can go the wireless way. Our EMR solution works best when used with a LAN connection, clearly dividing the workflows for doctors and receptionists/nurses who can handle the non clinical transactions.

c. Syncplicity/Dropbox: These softwares are simply fantastic. Most of us have nightmare about viruses and PCs crashing and losing all our information! Now with auto backup softwares that can never happen. Select which folders, drives and PCs you would like to back-up, it automatically syncs it to a virtual representation of your folders online. These can now be downloaded or accessed with a password by you anytime. The whole solution is secure and does not need a huge bandwidth.

d. Virtual memory:  Most computers use not just the RAM but also some part of the hard disk space as memory to run applications. This is called virtual memory as it is an extension of the RAM space into the hard disk. Lot of times your PC may appear slow despite having a decent RAM or gives a pop up saying Virtual Memory Low.  For application that use caching, paging and other virtualization techniques they require adequate virtual memory space.  Ideally your Virtual Memory should be set to 1.5*RAM.

The following procedure is based on Windows XP Professional.
1.    Go to right-click My Computer and choose Properties.
2.    In the System Properties dialog box, go to Advanced tab.
3.    Click Settings button that is from the Performance frame.
4.    Once the Performance Options shows up on the screen, go to Advanced tab.
5.    Under the Advanced tab, click the Change button from the Virtual Memory frame to access to the Virtual Memory setting.

Then the Virtual Memory dialog box appears on the screen. In there, you are able to check how much the Virtual Memory you set. If you would like to modify the size of Virtual Memory, follow the procedure that is shown below.
1.    In there, select the drive letter that is used to install the Operating System.
2.    Choose the option that says, "Custom Size:"

Once you choose that option, the setting for Initial Size and Maximum Size become available for you to set. Initial Size (MB) means the actual size of Virtual Memory, and Maximum Size (MB) means the maximum size of Virtual Memory that is allowed to use.

e. Clean Up the Temp Folder: A large section of your hard disk gets blocked over time by the Temp Folder where, partially downloaded files, applications in progress, copy pasted data is stored in parallel.
C:\Documents and Settings\{NAME OF USER ACCOUNT}\Local Settings\Temp, clear this Folder out from time to time.  A similar exercise can be carried out with the Temporary Internet Files located in the Windows Folder.

f. System Restore – Another handy little service that can get your computer back up and running sometimes, but again takes up a lot of extra space that is not needed is System Restore. But System Restore only recovers Windows files, not any of your data. So having System Restore enabled on any other drive other than your C drive (where Windows is installed) is completely useless. Hence keep it turned off.

To fix this one, right click on My Computer and choose Properties. Click on the System Restore tab, you will see all the drives on the computer, if you have a C and a D drive, turn it off for D drive. For system restore, a value between 2% to 4% will be fine in terms of space. The default 12% wastes loads and loads of space!

g. Use a Local Mail Option: Use a local mail option like Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, Eudora to sync your mails offline from multiple sources so you access them at any time. Even Google Mail provides this option now. Just go to the Offline Tab in your settings and read up about it.

h. Clean with CCleaner:
CCleaner is a tool used to clean your PC. IT description on its site is given below – “CCleaner is a freeware system optimization, privacy and cleaning tool. It removes unused files from your system - allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history. Additionally it contains a fully featured registry cleaner. But the best part is that it's fast (normally taking less than a second to run) and contains NO Spyware or Adware!” So download it today and get your PC cleaned for free.

i. Out with the toolbars: Usually most people end up having numerous toolbars on their application windows. This is most common in browsers, but also tends to happen in Office applications where all the various tools are now on an ever descending bar. The user experience is diminished if half your seeable and workable space is cluttered with objects which take up your attention and are not even used. So my suggestion, for browsers uncheck all the external toolbars from Yahoo, Google and what not, these not only take space but also cause pop-ups and headaches. In case of MS Word or MS Excel, stick to the basic tools on the window, remove the unnecessary, they can be accessed any time anyway. These extra toolbars also cause delays in loading the software or browser.

j. A Free Desktop: Keep a neat clean desktop. It slows down start up and makes you and your PC sluggish to have uncountable number of items on your desktop. My suggestion is create a folder called Desktop items in your documents and create a shortcut on the desktop and dump everything in that. This is if the habit it too hard to shake off.  I find it much easier and quicker to work if the Desktop is clean or at least cleaned once in a week to make it fast and simple.

k. Use Bookmarks: Use bookmarks, stars, favorites and other such little programs to make your life on the net simpler. Why run around to search for the pages already found or remember the long URL which you never will. Just a single click to bookmark them and they are stored forever.

A Guide to Improving your Patient Interaction and Outreach

Technology enables, but man disables by not taking advantage of opportunities given to him. As a Physicians today, you have many key touch points to increase and consequently improve your interactions with patients. Some are simple methods, some require a little bit of work, but what is the end advantage of it all? For one thing it makes you popular amongst patients;  and the side effect could lead you to get more business.

Second it helps educate and provide information to patients and people who may read just what they need, thanks to you! A little help goes a long way in accumulating blessings.

Third, contributing to the general knowledge resource of the community improves the very community you are part off, it encourages others to follow suit.

So now what do you need to do?

1. Reach out to many in the general audience: Start writing, the internet lets you update and express views, either as 160 character bursts on twitter, or a long blog detailing your experience.

Twitter: On twitter you can start putting up bursts of interesting cases you see, new techniques you here about, information about your local medical network which may help people in your area! Go onto www.twitter.com, register yourself and type away.

Blogging: Doing a lot of research which you think people should here about, or have an opinion which potential patients should here about, blog about it. Many people will find it online as they search for an information panacea for their problem and be happy to come across your blog.

2. Create a mechanism such that people can contact you: For a start, get a practice website. It helps you disseminate information about your services for people looking for the same. It isn’t advertising, it’s a service, people today face many choices and are hampered by lack of information, improving their ability to find information quickly is beneficial to them.

On your website, don’t only talk about you, tell the patients more about what diseases and disabilities you treat, what are the latest treatments, generic advice and maybe even help them going to right person if you weren’t involved.

Use tools like interactive patient forms which can be filled before the patient arrives at the center, saving time and giving you a heads up on the patient’s needs. Use query forms on the website so that people can ask you about their problems, patients their doubts; this gives the feeling to your patients that you are available to them 24/7 without actually being there. Technical Doctor encourages doctors to have their own websites through their initiative http://www.technicaldr.com/tdr/websites-for-doctors. We also offer advice and consulting to help your website create the best impact on your patients and potential clients.

3. Using Software tools: Use softwares which improve communications. Invest in software which doesn’t just keep your records and accounts. The software should come with communications tools integrated and can be used with ease. Emailing of schedules and reports to patients is a must.

The software should also allow using SMSes to send reminders, alerts, prescription reminders etc. This is a new level of service, and patients will be thrilled to know there is always an alert to give them confidence in their moments of doubt.

Online Medical records allow patients to access their records remotely, insist on looking at software which promotes this feature if not today, but at least is compatible with this extension in the future. Technical Doctor provides EMR software products which come coupled with email, SMS and online EMRs. We encourage doctors to use these services to improve their service quality. You can see our products on http://www.technicaldr.com

4. Accessing data and messages on your phone: Today you may be using you phone to send SMSs, read emails and play games online. Why stop there, use it to drive business wherever you are. Neat and simple apps provide you fingertip information, coupled with your own website, or software they can become powerful tools in your hands to handle patients remotely.

Access patient alerts via the phone or your actual software to pull up data remotely. Technical Doctor already has a suite of products and apps which can run on phone browsers.

5. Contribute to journals and medical website online: Numerous sources are present where doctors submit their stories, research and experiences. The medical and patient community will be greatly benefited by your inputs, a little effort online will show you exactly where you should be adding your data.

6. Using new cool online tools to make education interesting: Nowadays making a presentation, cartoon strip or a cartoon movie to help educate your patients or interested clients is easy. Many tools are available online which let you render very interesting collaterals that can help ease patient doubts and also make it fun. Tools like www.bitstrips.com which we use to make cartoons helps in creating awareness in an educational yet informal way. Putting these up on your clinic facebook page or on your website is the best option.

These are just some pointers on how technology can help you as a doctor to interact with patients and also general public looking for information in your areas of expertise. It’s time to exercise your power using technology, so see you out there soon.