Article Date: 5/1/2001


Smart Business Strategies
Add value to your practice with savvy technology investments.

Daily T.V. and radio announcements continue to trumpet the roster of dead and dying dot-coms and the sickness of once-healthy technology companies. Forrester Research analyst David Cooperstein says that many, if not most, of these dot-com casualties are the result of poor management.

Good management

For us, this statement is a hint that maybe a new e-commerce or e-business technical solution won't replace a sound business or marketing plan. So if your practice base is computer phobic, then relying on an e-commerce solution alone might only target a portion of your patient base.

We can also take from this that e-business or online ordering and claims submission processes won't save us money if our procedures aren't standardized for replicable processes. The power of the computer is best applied to procedures and paradigms that we can replicate and automate repetitively.

Technology and marketing

The economic conditions caused by the e-commerce failures don't mean that we should stop spending! Rather, we should invest in technology wisely.

A technology procurement plan should correspond with your practice's business and marketing plans. Evaluate your business processes and determine if your technology initiative can bring value to these processes. Will it save time? Will it improve customer service?

Choosing the right tools

Here's my top 10 list of prudent technology investments:

  1. Practice management software (PMS). Your patient records are your most valuable assets, and your management of them is critical to your success. Use PMS to do timely patient recalls. Or, create focused, direct mail marketing pieces that highlight a new product or service that your practice is offering.
    Check the health of your practice with periodic management reports such as the proportion of returning patients versus new patients.
  2. Up-to-date computer equipment. As you may have noticed, computer equipment has dramatically dropped in price. If your equipment is more than 4 years old, consider updating it.
    I've seen a marked increase in our office's PMS since we upgraded from Pentium 133 Mhz to 600 Mhz Celeron-based computers.
  3. Broadband (greater than 56k dial up) connection. Our staff saw our VSP claims submission time decrease from 25 minutes to an average of 14 minutes. And while one staff person is submitting a claim, another can check eligibility.
    Common broadbands consist of Asynchronous/Synchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL/SDSL), Commercial Antenna Television (CATV) cable modem, Satellite or DirecPC and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN).
  4. Reliable, uninterrupted power source (UPS). Safeguard your computers and your data with at least 1 hour of backup. UPSs are specialized batteries located between the computer and the AC power source.
    Luckily, our office hasn't experienced an electrical power interruption, but our UPSs are set to provide electrical power to our computer system just in case.
  5. Approved surge protector. These devices protect sensitive computers and electrical appliances from a sudden surge of power when the power returns after an electricity blackout.
  6. Liquid crystal display (LCD) or flat panel monitors. These consume less electricity than typical monitors and take up less counter space. Our office hasn't bought these yet, but at my daytime job, they're wonderful because as monitors have increased in size, counter space hasn't. LCD flat panel monitors are more expensive, but I think they'll beat tearing out and replacing your countertops.
  7. Data backup. Choose tape, a CD burner or another hard drive device and place these backups at another physical location! You might want to add specialized software to automate the backup.
    Our office has a relatively simple solution of using a cartridge hard drive connected to one of the workstation printer ports, which can backup any of the network-
    connected workstations or servers.
  8. Web site. Even a static Web site is helpful in explaining office policies, showing patients how to find your office and listing some of the services you offer. Our own Web site is relatively simple and lists doctors' biographies and hours of operation.
  9. Cellular or personal communications services (PCS) portable phone. Many phones can now receive short text messages (Short Message Service, or SMS), like a pager. It's quicker for my office staff to send a text message than to call my cellular phone and wait for my answer or my voice mail.
  10. Palm organizers. These small, handheld computers are convenient and relatively unobtrusive. The senior doctor in our practice even has a condensed software program that lists and explains drug facts. Some versions can also receive wireless text messages.

Eye on value

The current economic climate will be a challenge for optometry. Consumer confidence has fallen, and doctors will need to make their practices more efficient and more resistant to business interruptions from power outages or human error.

The take-home message for the next 6 to 12 months is value. Make sure you're getting the most for your money in every sense. Evaluate the cost and benefit of every option to determine whether it will add value to your practice.

Make wise investments, and you'll stave off the possible bad times ahead. 

Dr. Hom has a rich background in e-commerce. He practiced optometry in a variety of settings and currently practices part-time in San Francisco, exclusively caring for complicated contact lens patients. He is a partner and business development manager for Network Appliance in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Optometric Management, Issue: May 2001