How to morph your practice into a mobile haven

Moving from a desktop computer to an iPhone may seem like second nature to some – or like being attached to a ball and chain to others. As healthcare practices adopt and require mobile-based apps for their EMRs and other services, providers may find that they have little choice but to quit worrying and learn to love their mobile devices.

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Brad Jannenga, CEO of WebPT, develops specialized software for physical therapy practices and entered the healthcare industry specifically because of a lack of good mobile based applications.

"In the medical space there's kind of a dichotomy," says Jannenga, who points out that incredibly advanced life-saving and life-sustaining technology has been developed that can "fit inside a briefcase." But "the software they're using to manage their practice" is so outdated that he likens it to the old green text on a black screen of the early command line based systems.

"Instead of trying to get your mobile phone [to talk to] circa 1982 applications," says Jannenga, why not "just upgrade" your entire practice to become mobile-based?

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He suggests these 5 steps towards a mobile practice

1. Research. Jannenga makes no bones about the fact that every practice and its needs are different. "Go out and evaluate what's out there, map out back to what your needs are as a practice," he says. Does a system offer HIPAA compliance? How accessible is the data? Just buying a piece of software alone is not a magic bullet. Jannenga says that "some systems are very generic so you have to ask, will that cause more work for your staff?" The level of tech acumen present in a practice has a large bearing on what systems to look at too, says Jannenga, who notes that it is important to evaluate how tech-savvy and open to a mobile system a staff is. Will they need additional training? Is a mobile system going to be welcomed and actually used?

2. Invest. "Do laptops instead of desktops," Jannenga says. "Do tablets, do iPhones, whatever makes sense for your practice." Knowing the specifics of what each specialized practice does is key to developing a solution that will integrate and benefit the practice. Within the example of physical therapy, mobile makes sense: "It's one of the most documentation intensive sub specialties .... Every time you see a physical therapist, you're talking about two pieces of paper." He says that investing in mobile technology allows a physician the freedom to capture data and take notes wherever they are, potentially freeing them from the confines of their office. When it comes to shelling out, there are two sides to the coin: "The beauty of having a mobile workforce is that you're largely relying on cloud-based technology so all you really need to support that, as far as hardware goes, are mobile devices for staff." 

3. Dive in. "A lot of people will buy software and will tinker around with it," says Jannenga. It is a mistake to invest in a mobile system and think that it will begin solving problems all by itself, however. To recognize the full impact of a mobile system, Jannenga says, "You have to accept that things are going to change, and you're going to have to do things differently. Those changes are going to produce a net gain on the back end." Embracing the new wave of computing is more than just committing to using an iPhone: "Some people love change, some people absolutely hate it," says Jannenga, adding that practices need to aim for a "staff level buy in" of new technology. "A little bit of training goes a long way," he says, noting that an upfront investment in getting everybody up to speed will provide a return on investment in the long run. Additionally, "regular meetings with staff where feedback is gathered," is a must-do as a practice launches any new platform. Keeping in touch with staff using the new systems on the front line enables a practice to ensure products are deployed in the most efficient and beneficial manner.

4. Focus on security. While moving from a locally-based system to an Internet-based one may seem less secure, Jannenga says the opposite can actually be true. Moving a practice's data from a computer that can be accessed by breaking in to an office to a cloud that's "used to encrypt spy files" can be a major step up for practices. Still, keeping up on security is a big component to a successful mobile practice. "Make sure that you have a security policy that is well defined, kept current and that the staff is trained," says Jannenga. He provides examples of a good policy, including measures such as changing passwords every 30 days, keeping track of devices and "never working from an unsecured wireless network," among other things. If it seems like a lot to handle and a practice is unsure of where to start, or what a comprehensive plan might entail, Jannenga says, "making a small investment to outsource a healthcare IT consultant who can do this for you is a good idea."

5. Evaluate. After the first four steps have been taken, it may be tempting to leave well enough alone, but constantly evaluating the effectiveness of a system and looking for ways to improve is an important aspect in keeping a mobile practice healthy. "No business is going to stay the same for five years, or 10 years, or 100 years," says Jannenga. He says that the "evaluate" stage could be split in to two separate steps: one during the selection of a system, and then again after all the parts are in place. "Part of running a successful practice is analyzing its effectiveness, Jannenga says. "And part of that is integrating your technology." [See also: Mobile's future looks bright due to forecast growth in underlying technologies]