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Business

A better way to evaluate health IT

Treat your EMR investment just as you would an investment in a new imaging system, or lab system, or any other major purchase you are making for your business. That's what your clinic is, a business.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

The folks at Medsphere, which licenses hospital software based on the VA's open source VistA system, has launched a Stimulus ROI Calculator, a handy way for evaluating its software based on that sweet, sweet stimulus cash, and of getting your hospital on its radar.

It's a good thing.

But if you're looking at health IT, especially if you're a clinic, a stimulus calculator is not the first place you should be looking.

During the HIMSS show I got this clue in the Kryptiq booth, from Thomas Landholt (right), who runs a family clinic in Missouri and has been through the automation wars.

His advice? First write a business plan.

Whether you can afford an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system is one thing. But if government money is going to be your sole motivator, your automation effort is going to fail.

Instead, he suggested, treat your EMR investment just as you would an investment in a new imaging system, or lab system, or any other major purchase you are making for your business. That's what your clinic is, a business.

Doctors resist thinking of themselves as businessmen, but unless you're drawing a paycheck that's what you are. And the biggest mistake many doctors make is spending all their time working in their business, rather than on their business.

Writing a business plan is working on your business. Figure out how you're going to profit from this investment. Add up all the costs, list all the benefits. Put numbers on them. Do research to make certain the numbers are accurate.

What Landholt found, in building out his own EMR system, was that it helped him re-engineer his business. He put his nursing station in sight of the reception desk. He put in secure messaging to reduce the cost of connecting with patients, and increase communication. He changed workflows.

These are some of the things EMR software is designed to enable, under the stimulus. But what the software really does is provide you the opportunity to get inside your business and make it work better, more efficiently. You can lower costs and provide better care once you have access to your own data.

But to make that work you have to be willing to spend time working on your business. You have to find time to take off your stethoscope and put on your green eye shades, remove the white coat and put on a virtual business suit.

This may be the hardest lesson health reform has for doctors. Because the last thing most doctors want to think they are is businessmen. Businessmen go to the Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis. Businessmen care mostly about profit. You care about doing good, about serving the public.

Well, horsefeathers. Not about the second, about the first. Good businessmen don't just care about profit. Good businessmen care about the service they provide, and about their employees, just like you do. Profit is the output from caring about the inputs.

You, doctor, are a businessman, and health IT is a business tool.

If you can't get your arms around that fact, do yourself a favor. Close your clinic and get a job. Toss away your autonomy because you don't really want it. If all you want to do is work, then be a worker, not a boss.

Health IT is a business tool. Use it to improve your business.

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