Through my 28 years of practice, I have always been an early adopter of new technologies. In the mid-1990s, my patients were greeted by a 10 lb Toshiba laptop, a rarity in doctor’s offices at the time. The trend has continued from there: I quickly adopted an Electronic Medical Record (EMR), tested many tools and even dabbled in programming at home.
Some of the innovations I tested worked for my practice, while many did not. The central question was whether the tech companies understood the realities of running a practice.
To help you avoid poor investments, cut down on wasted time, and pick the right medical software, I’ve put together a list of red flags to help you with your potential investment decision; a decision that can affect your practice for years to come.
Red Flag #1: The technology promises to play a significant role in your practice, but doesn’t allow you to customize the experience.
Imagine hiring someone at your clinic who was completely set in their ways and reluctant to adopt your practice’s management preferences; a person who could not be trained any further and forced you to conform to their way of running a clinic? Obviously, this is not an ideal scenario, yet this is what many physicians take on when they bring in a powerful but inflexible software.
Your workflow must be at the epicentre of your practice’s processes and systems; you should never bend too heavily to accommodate the strengths and limitations of technology. Look for a system that creates an opportunity for it to conform to you rather than imposing a system that leads to frustration.
Remain skeptical about highly standardized, non-customizable programs. Technology should help you be more efficient in your practice, but it can only do so if it aligns with how you naturally work. Be sure to ask questions about customization features when trying new technologies to make sure that they are flexible enough to work with your current and future systems.
This is especially important when it comes to foundational technologies like your EMR. My practice uses OSCAR, which allows me to benefit from add-ons like Auxita (a web-based platform that automates routine tasks and visualizes patient data) and voice recognition software. These options reduce the time required to chart notes, evaluate patient labs and data, thereby increasing my time with patients.
Red Flag #2: It doesn’t have a “beginner mode.”
Medical software that offers lots of functionality and options is great - unless you have to learn how to use the most complex features before accessing the simple ones. It’s like if you had to be familiar with all of Google’s tools before using its search engine. This is essentially what some software companies do when they hide their basic functionality under layers of programming.
Adopting software like that can be a huge task. The ripple effect of this complexity can lead to frustration and, in some cases, staff resistance. If you are in a multidisciplinary practice with doctors, nurses, and support staff - what are the odds that everyone will be able to learn the ins-and-outs of a new piece of software front-to-back right away?
My experience has taught me to look at the dashboard and user experience to ensure you can easily navigate and use the functions specific to your practice. It should be as intuitive as possible. If a massive amount of training is needed to get started frustration will abound. Over time, advanced features are fantastic (they can often be the key to the customization I discussed in point #1), but if a massive amount of training is needed to get started, you might want to look elsewhere.
Red Flag #3: It requires a large, upfront commitment
It’s important to test drive medical software before buying it to truly understand its suitability for your particular workflow. Consider the wasted time, financial impact, human resource costs, and the effect on staff morale that can happen if you commit to a tool that doesn’t work for you and your team.
The good news is that many of today’s software companies allow you to try their software before you buy it. Most tools worth using offer a trial period while others offer a free version you can use for an unlimited amount of time with additional services you can pay for if you find them valuable.
Some companies still require doctors to license software and commit to lengthy contracts before accessing their technology. With the exception of foundational software like your EMR or Patient Management Program, most modern medical software should not require extensive setup.
Red Flag #4: When working with the company, there are no doctors in sight.
Practical application is of prime importance when it comes to the software you use. Everything might look good in the demo but in my experience, a practicing medical professional is the best person to really understand how it works on a day-to-day basis. Having someone in your office who loves doing this is a great resource for everyone else.
When buying medical software, if the only professionals you see are technical staff, they might not know about the nuances of practice. Look for companies that have medical professionals on their team and give you the opportunity to consult with them as you onboard the software. I have been pleased to work closely with Auxita over the last 12 months in developing their clinical support dashboard to ensure it fits the needs of busy medical practices like mine.
Final tips for picking the right medical software
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, well-designed technology can be practice-changing. I believe that used correctly, it can allow doctors to provide standardized care that conforms to College medical record standards, improves the patient experience, increases efficiency, and prevents misunderstandings or errors.
Ultimately, your ability to benefit from medical software comes down to how you select, test, and set up these programs. It has to be an extension of how you think and practice. It is imperative that you build your internal systems first and adopt technology second, asking many questions along the way. This will make it much easier to spot software that will get in your way, versus technology that will help you run a more effective practice for the benefit of you, your staff and your patients.
Dr. Barry Dworkin is an Ottawa-based practicing family doctor for the past 28 years and a self-admitted tech geek for over 40. He is also a Medical Advisor for and avid user of Auxita’s platform.By analyzing patient data, Auxita turns information into valuable insights— saving time and maximizing revenue. Click here to try it for free today!