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Facing the IT Future: You Are Not Alone

May 1, 2006
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Working with an up-to-speed technology vendor can fulfill your infrastructure's needs by Mark Tomzak
BY MARK TOMZAK Facing the IT future: You are not alone
Facilities can face daunting IT upgrade challenges with the active help of technology vendors
According to a recent article in BusinessWeek, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services anticipates that every American will have access to an electronic health record (EHR) by 2014. Traditionally, long-term care follows the lead of the acute care sector when adopting new technologies such as this. But long-term care facilities will face challenges figuring out how to implement the EHR.

Over the years, leadership in most organizations has been hesitant to invest in new technologies because of the cost and the change management that needs to occur to adopt them. This neglects the typical return on investment involved. Electronic health records, for example, will decrease redundancies in patient and resident care, such as duplicate tests and treatments, and ultimately redirect time spent on those activities toward better-quality resident care.

Moreover, long-term care facilities will need to establish a more general use of technology as the government further investigates the implementation of pay-for-performance (PFP) models that reward facilities for providing quality care. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently revealed its recommendations for a PFP initiative that aims to improve resident care quality and increase patient safety. The use of technology to track important resident information-eventually within an electronic National Health Information Network-will be vital to high-performing facilities wanting to reap the benefits of the CMS initiative.

The good news is that facilities are not alone in making the necessary adjustments to 21st century technology. Many long-term care technology vendors now offer technology consultation services to help ease the burden facilities face in choosing and implementing technologies to best meet their specific needs. These services aim to complement an organization's current technology infrastructure (or can even serve as its de facto IT department) so that administrators, clinicians, and business office staff can focus on resident care and improved quality of service.

Most vendors involved in such assistance will offer a customized solution tailored to a facility's specific needs. It is crucial for facilities seeking such assistance to find a technology partner able to provide a comprehensive needs assessment. The needs assessment or technology audit should lead to the development of a strategic plan. This, in turn, helps the organization prepare a proposal for rolling out a potential technology and its accompanying services suited to the organization's own operations.

Technology is fluid and quickly moves to obsolescence, which is why it is necessary to choose products that are compatible with other applications used by the facility and will provide future scalability. Web-based applications go a long way toward solving this problem: They are accessible anytime and anywhere, are generally easy to use, and are scalable to fit the needs of midsize to large organizations.

Beyond this, quality technology services providers will help the facility handle all of its desktop items, printer management, domain administration, network security, virus control, and file storage. As staff changes, the facility will need to ensure that the appropriate people will continue to have access to necessary information. In addition, as the EHR comes online, facilities will see an increase in the need for hosted file storage. Working with an outsourced service provider presents a number of benefits here, such as managed application releases and uninterrupted access to the latest technologies without the associated risks, cost, and administrative responsibility of seeking and adapting them individually.

The Long-Term Advantage
After an application is chosen and a facility-specific plan is adopted, the quality technology services vendor can continue the relationship with the facility by providing project management, consulting services, and maintenance, ultimately serving as the liaison between the facility and the technology provider, or working with the current IT staff to complete the project. Moreover, although business continuity and disaster recovery are topics that many organizations only think about when something bad happens, a solid relationship with a technology services provider empowers facilities with early investigation and detection of potential hazards. By discovering vulnerabilities early, the facility can work with its technology provider to prevent or almost certainly mitigate such setbacks.

In sum, facilities can strategically define objectives for their entire organization through comprehensive technology audits and achieve those objectives through consulting and tailored technology management. Organizations should take these preliminary steps, combined with continuity and recovery programs, desktop management, virus control, and network security to proactively manage systems. These two steps can provide facilities with an effective means to conduct business, improve outcomes, and provide residents with a high quality of life.

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