New Report Highlights Successful Information Technology Strategies for Small Physician Practices

CHCF and FCG publish guide for IT-challenged doctors offices

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Information technology (IT) strategies that work for the small physician office are finally emerging as traditional barriers like cost and complexity begin to diminish, according to a newly published report by the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF) and First Consulting Group (FCG), (NASDAQ: FCGI). Solo doctors and small physician offices now have access to IT benefits previously affordable only to larger physician groups, according to the study, Achieving Tangible IT Benefits in Small Physician Practices.

The report highlights creative new IT initiatives that small physician offices across the country have developed to improve the quality and efficiency of care. Until fairly recently, the success stories of small physician practices implementing IT beyond billing functions have been few and far between. A variety of factors are driving the change, including Web-based technology and widespread access to the Internet, which has allowed vendors to offer remotely hosted applications that simplify the task of managing technology. Some vendors now offer IT via the application service provider (ASP) model, which spreads the system costs over time. Other factors encouraging small doctors’ offices to adopt IT:

  • The advent of mobile computing devices enables a better fit with the work style of the physician without large costs for equipment wiring.
  • Some vendors now offer modular, tool-based products that provide options for adding functionality incrementally.
  • Many vendors are designing products that make interoperability (ability to integrate different systems) and data transferability (from one system to another) less problematic.
  • Vendors are reconfiguring their products and pricing models to meet the needs and budgets of small practices. Case studies include in the report are: an orthopedist who uses an automated appointment reminder system to call patients the day before their visits; a urologist who documents clinical notes with a Web-based notewriter; and a solo practitioner who self-installed an electronic medical record that cuts practice costs by 20 to 30 percent per patient visit.

    “The small physician practice is a difficult venue for implementing IT-enabled patient care,” said Thomas Lee, M.D., M.B.A., senior program officer at CHCF. “This report shows that innovative physicians are making important steps to improve the quality and efficiency of patient care by using information technologies that are becoming more available in the marketplace.”

    The research conducted for the report sought to identify the spectrum of IT approaches in use in small practices today and to demonstrate through case studies that physician use of IT can and does produce qualitative and quantitative benefits.

    “Most patient care occurs in outpatient settings like the small physician practice,” commented Keith MacDonald, a senior research manager in FCG’s Emerging Practices unit and an author of the report. “As consumers, we’re all aware of the need for better efficiency in that setting. Clearly, the landscape is changing quickly to make that happen.”

    Physicians and staff at more than two-dozen small physician practices were interviewed, along with vendors and leaders from several national professional organizations. A look across these IT success stories reveals common elements:

  • A specific operational problem that is the target of the IT initiative;
  • A motivated physician interested in IT leading the charge; and
  • A vendor product that represents a good fit for addressing the identified problem. The case-study lessons are augmented in this report by an overview of available products and their general characteristics. Taken together, this report can serve as a guide for the small physician practice eager to find IT solutions for the challenges in their practices.

    The report is available online through the link below.

About the California Health Care Foundation

The California Health Care Foundation is dedicated to advancing meaningful, measurable improvements in the way the health care delivery system provides care to the people of California, particularly those with low incomes and those whose needs are not well served by the status quo. We work to ensure that people have access to the care they need, when they need it, at a price they can afford.