Sunday, December 17, 2006

Going Solo? Embrace Technology.

A long time ago, 20 or 25 or more years ago, a doctor coming out of training had the option to just "hang a shingle." Perhaps the costs were low, or there was not such a saturation of physicians as today, or practice management was simpler then. But I don't actually believe that. Having spoken to physicians and dentists and lawyers who hung their own shingles years ago, it was pretty hard and pretty scary in those days, just like it is now. While costs for them were low by today's standards, these professionals assured me that they were financially stretched to the limit during their own start-up years. I actually believe it is easier today, or at least not anymore difficult.

People starting out today have 1 advantage over our yesteryear start-up counterparts. One huge advantage. Today we have amazing and inexpensive technology that can do for us meaningful work in an efficient manner; work that enables us to be more profitable, more available, more productive, more independent more quickly and more easily. Technology such as electronic faxing, EMR, VOIP, cell-phone, miniturization, IM, e-mail, FTP, fiber optics, OCR, etc, if you know how to use them, can help you substantially not only throughout the start-up phase, but beyond. Here are some examples of how.

  • Miniturization: Electrical components that formerly would take up a room's worth of space are now available, at an affordable price, that are the size of a lap-top computer, even smaller. Whether these components are client computer stations, handheld PDA's, sonographic equipment, or light sources, the small sizes frees up valuable square footage for more efficient and profitable usage.
  • Electronic Medical Records: From issues relating to paper management to the physical space required for chart storage, and everything in between, the advantages of an electronic medical record system are obvious. Recently some vendors have come down in price so that a physician can afford it, but perhaps even better, an industrious and resourceful solo person can make his/her own system using off the shelf software.
  • Communications: I can't imagine what doctors used to do before cell phones. I guess they needed to travel with a wad of pocket change or tell the maitre'd at a restaurant that "Dr Schoor is over there." Now it is truly an amazing time to put the power of technology to your advantage and nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of communications. Cell phones, VOIP, VPN, voicemail, instant messaging, text-messaging, video conferencing, electronic faxing are all realities, inexpensive ones at that, and are all available using nothing larger than an inexpensive laptop computer. These technologies may all have their role in your start-up. All you need to do is evaluate your situation and then try them out.
  • Billing: Billing used to take a team of people, just on your end. People to enter charges, submit claims, follow-up on claims and denials, and people to follow accounts recievable. Now all this can be done electronically by no more that 1 or 2 people, including the doctor/owner. With electronic you no longer have the not-insignificant-expense of tonors and printer ink and postage and proof of mailings. By the very of nature of the electronic submission process, all transactions leave their electronic footprint so that "I'm sorry, we never recieved it" no longer applies. In addition, claim turn-around-time is faster than with paper claims, and that helps with cash flow.
  • Advertising: Many years ago doctors never dreamed of advertising, but now many of them do. Traditional advertising, print, radio, TV, is extremenly expensive, and frankly, for most of us, is not cost-effective. Fortunately, the internet exists and has revolutionized commerce. E-commerce, the new word that describes internet based businesses, can apply to your start-up as well. For relative peanuts, you can have your website hosted and quickly start to sell items from it or to book appointments from it, and by learning basic source code, you can make your site more search engine friendly with metatags, and keywords, and etc. In addition, if you embrace the new blogging technologies, you can help drive even more traffic to your site.

Embrace technology!