Today’s Private Practice
How do we choose wisely when making investments in technology?
By Eric Cardin, PT, MS, CSCS
In many ways, technology improves our lives every day. We can pay bills with the tap of our fingers and a slide of the thumb. We make reservations for dinner, gather shopping lists, and stay connected with family and friends both near and far. Technology has impacted our lives in everything we do. If we leave the lights on, there is an app for turning them off remotely. We forget a birthday, a meeting, or to let the cat out and we can ask Siri to “Remind me every day at 9 p.m. to let Mr. Snuggles out.” In a fast-paced world, technology can keep us connected and on task.
In medicine, technology has advanced in so many ways. People are surviving traumatic injuries and fighting back against chronic diseases. Fifty years from now, what will happen to recovery times? What debilitating diseases will we help patients battle back from? Advances in technology continue to change how physicians make decisions, and as valued members of the health care continuum, physical therapists will need to adapt to technology and innovate in their own practice to lead the field of rehabilitation.
How will this technological revolution trickle down to making our lives better as clinicians and practice owners? Will it make things better? What innovations do we still need? Does your iSomething make it so iWorkSmarterNotHarder or is it iSpentAlotOnThisNowWhat? Digital goniometers, hi-tech balance sensors, gait analysis equipment, postural analysis apps, virtual reality, mobile health technology, telemedicine, and electronic medical records all present a challenging and important cost/benefit analysis. In a practice environment of declining or insufficient payment how do you make the choice? After the return on investment (ROI) is done and the installation and training is over, how do you—the practitioner—avoid the 21st century equivalent of the dusty treadmill as clothes hanger in your bedroom? What makes your referral sources care, what makes your clients understand, and what gets your employees engaged?
Engaging referral sources can often be as simple as asking. Finding common ground or shared investment can result in a stream of new patients and new revenue sources. Understanding the people who send you patients is important for establishing a working relationship and is a solid step in relationship building. Knowing what their interests, needs, and wants are is “Sales 101” for a seasoned salesperson. Although for those of us who are “clinician-business” more than we are “business-clinician” this can be easily missed. Asking “What can I do for you?” or “How can I help your practice grow?” are powerful questions—and a lot more powerful than “Can you send me patients, please?”
Technology can improve patient engagement through interactive websites, YouTube video libraries, text/email appointment reminders, online registration and appointment services, and education material. Understanding your demographics by analyzing your current and past patient population can help you invest wisely. If you know “who” your patients are, you can find out what they need. For an established practice this is easier, but for a new practice it is essential due diligence. Using the web for population data, income demographics, business listings, and social media can piece together the puzzle of potential clients in your area. Tech savvy clients like the ability to make appointments online, and they live and die by their calendars and text reminders. Using your website and social media for education can also be an important part of the patient’s care and seen as an added value, as well as something that potentially differentiates your practice. If you practice in a unique demographic, you can use these resources to invest and innovate with new technology.
Arguably, engaging with the people who are interacting with clients, referral sources, and all this technology is most important. Finding an investment that gives everyone a little something and opens dialogue will get your practice off on the right foot. Nothing will torpedo your investment faster than poor employee engagement.
Do not invest in an Olympic lifting platform when your staff enjoys working with geriatric patients. Mismatched enthusiasm will leave your investment dead on arrival. Asking “how can we do this better” or “what are you passionate about” gives your practice the chance to grow and be driven by something someone really cares about. This can maximize productivity and engagement.
For most private practices, EMR will be one of the biggest investments you will make. A first-time EMR transition, and hopefully the only transition, can be stressful and employees will adapt at different levels. Predicting who will need help is not always obvious. Routine communication, skill checks, and re-education keep everyone moving forward.
As practice owners or leaders, the buck stops with us for decisionmaking, but often engaging our audience is the key to success. Engagement comes through asking open-ended questions and listening to the answers and exploring how to translate them into realities. In the busy day-to-day routine of running a small business, it is easy to overlook that we are surrounded by intelligent, caring, and innovative people who have a lot to offer.
Eric Cardin, PT, MS, CSCS, is the executive director of South County Physical Therapy, Inc., in Massachusetts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.