When should physicians hire an IT consultant?

Should physicians use a consultant to help choose a practice management system or EHR for their practice? According to recent Medical Group Management Association surveys more than 50% of physicians used the services of a healthcare consultant or firm at least once in the previous 3 years.

But did they have to? Was it a smart move?

The answer: It depends

Not every practice needs a consultant’s assistance when replacing and choosing a new system.

You don’t need a consultant if you’ve done your homework and have been diligent in determining your needs.

The size of your practice is not a determining factor as to whether to use a consultant. It depends more on your knowledge of the various products in the marketplace and how to integrate one into your operations.

Consultants will usually know more about the systems that are out there than you do. They typically work with 20 to 30 practices a year, and each of those might have a different system.

Consultants also attend trade shows where they see, hear, and learn about other, often newer, technologies. A good consultant will have a better-informed perspective of all the options available.

Naturally, you’d think a consultant would provide an objective view of all these options but objectivity isn’t always a given. There are consultants who have some sort of relationship with a vendor or vendors, and that presents a conflict of interest, so always check references for the consultant, just as you would for a vendor.

Tips for the do-it-yourselfer

How do you proceed if you decide to forgo a consultant? First acknowledge the reason you’re looking for a new system. Look at what you’re doing now. There’s a reason you’re looking for a system; acknowledge that reason.

The system you choose should address the problem, but also retain the positive attributes of the system you already have in place.

Keep your patients’ wants and needs in mind, too. Your new technology should provide them with services they find useful, such as a web-based portal where they can access information or make or change appointments.

Speaking of web-based, it would be foolish not to think about the cloud because that is the future. Look for systems offered via the cloud and examine your own expertise for supporting a system on premises.

Document your wants and needs. Actually put a list on paper of the features and functions you want a new system to perform. Keeping an active list to compare and contrast solutions will keep your selection process on track. The process is complex and it is easy to get distracted by bells and whistles.

Put a selection team together that includes an expert from each area of your practice. You’ll have a nurse expert, a physician expert, a receptionist expert, a billing expert, and a medical records expert on your in-house consulting team.

Listen to them as if you’re paying them a consulting fee – they represent the collective knowledge of your operations.

Cost must not be the initial decision point, but you do have to manage the cost discussion efficiently. Create a matrix that identifies all the costs for the two systems that ranked highest in your “shopping.” Project the costs out over 5 years so you get a realistic long-term picture of what each of the systems would mean.

Then start your negotiations with the vendors.

But remember, just because you don’t always have to use a consultant doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea at times.

If you have any uncertainties at all, then why not use a consultant? You’d refer your patient to a specialist, so why not refer your business to a consultant?

Rosemarie Nelson is a principal with the MGMA Health Care Consulting Group.

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