By Al Alper
Medical practices are (rightly so) focused on providing the highest levels of care to their patients. Therefore it’s crucial that when the practice needs to contract with someone external to help with administrative issues, they choose a vendor that will serve as a partner in achieving that mission.
Given the sensitivity of patient information and the ever-changing requirements of insurance and compliance, selecting the best information technology managed services provider (MSP) for the practice is paramount. A medical practice must select an MSP that will be a true partner with the practice on critical issues such as compliance and regulation, transparency, and vendor relationship management and business continuity.
For one, the evolving landscape of compliance and regulation necessitates that a provider stay on top of these changes. A good partnership with an MSP offers the provider assistance in both keeping abreast of this shifting landscape, and understanding the technological implications associated with these changes. Although easily conflated, compliance and regulations are two separate but related subjects that have major impacts on a practice.
Both address the practice’s ability to implement and comply with them but, as not all practices are alike, the standards of compliance work to account for these differences in practice types and sizes by measuring their “best efforts” at complying and their taking “reasonable care” to safeguard protected health information (PHI). These guidelines are both incredibly subjective, and given that a bigger firm can more often spend more money and put in place more layers of accountability to meet “reasonable care” standards, the relativity of “best efforts” or “reasonable care” is directly related to a practice’s abilities.
As a result, if a practice relied on a software vendor to tell them what they need, they would be continually writing checks with each new module they develop to meet the next set of rules. For the software vendor, this is a win-lose business plan. A good MSP should help a practice understand how these shifts affect their technological needs, and how they can meet these requirements with the least amount of disruption – financial or otherwise. After all, a true partner recognizes that the growth of one enhances the growth of the other – a win-win proposition.
Additionally, since the practitioner is ultimately responsible for maintaining compliance and meeting regulatory requirements, he or she needs to know what is in the IT system – and a good MSP should be able to offer full transparency. This transparency includes understanding what the MSP offers – in terms of inventories of the practice’s assets, daily tickets, and warranties, as well as knowing what information is at risk, and what is exposed. In addition, information about how employees are using the technology (such as what content is being trafficked on the network, or on Wi-Fi) should also be readily available.
An MSP’s commitment to partnership is also demonstrated in its business continuity commitments (from a technological viewpoint) to the practice. Look for an MSP who will offer an onboarding audit, going over all of the technology components that make up the medical practice, whether or not all of those components are being provided by the MSP. This audit should demonstrate the disaster readiness profile, or lack thereof. In case of the latter the MSP should proffer recommendation to bring the practice into compliance and protect a practice from disaster, regardless of what that disaster might be.
For example, many practices have their telephone service through a different provider, even though that is frequently also a service that MSPs provide. Regardless of what company is providing the telephone service, an MSP should still include this system in its technology audit, and have a protocol in place (or ensure that there IS a protocol) should, for example, the telephone lines go down and patients are unable to reach the office. At minimum, a medical practice should expect an MSP to work hand in hand with other providers to ensure that the lines of communication stay open even when their phone lines are down, for example rerouting incoming calls to an outside party or staff cell phones. In these types of situations, a medical practice needs to have an MSP who is worried about its client (i.e., the medical practice), not its competition.
Any managed services provider can meet the basic information technology needs of a medical practice, or any other business or organization. Additional services that help a practice meet compliance and regulatory requirements, offer transparency, manage vendor relationships and ensure business continuity are hallmarks of a great partnership. By offering more than just IT needs, an MSP can and should be a true partner in a medical practice’s success.
Al Alper is the CEO and founder of Absolute Logic (www.absolutelogic.com), which since 1991 has been providing Fortune 500-style technical support and technology consulting to businesses of up to 250 employees. He can be contacted at [email protected] or (203) 936-6680.
Healthcare Business Today is a leading online publication that covers the business of healthcare. Our stories are written from those who are entrenched in this field and helping to shape the future of this industry. Healthcare Business Today offers readers access to fresh developments in health, medicine, science, and technology as well as the latest in patient news, with an emphasis on how these developments affect our lives.