MEDICAL-GRADE Table of content: Introduction—healthcare trends and challenges

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEDICAL-GRADE
NETWORKS—WHAT YOU NEED TO BUILD, IMPLEMENT RESPONSIVE HEALTHCARE SOLUTIONS FOR
PHYSICIAN GROUPS AND CLINICS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table of content:

 

Introduction—healthcare trends and challenges

 

The need for medical-grade network solutions in healthcare

 

Healthcare solutions for physician groups and clinics

 

Network solution benefits for physician groups and clinics

 

Strategic considerations for physician groups and clinics

 

Deployment considerations and questions

 

Timeline

 

Success measurements

 

Summary

 

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION—HEALTHCARE TRENDS
AND CHALLENGES

Physician
practices and clinics are being called on to do more than ever before. Today’s
physicians must treat more patients, document interactions more meticulously,
wrangle with more complex managed care rules, keep track of an ever-expanding
array of drugs, and pay rising malpractice insurance bills. In many cases,
physicians must treat 20 percent more patients than they did five years ago to
generate the same revenue. In the face of these burdens, some practices are
struggling to remain financially viable.

 

For many
practices, the biggest impediment to meeting these challenges is continual
administrative burden, a lack of automated clinical documentation, and
inefficient practice workflow systems. Despite the dramatic advances in many
areas of healthcare technology over the past several years, most physician
practices—especially small and midsize ones—are still using the same manual and
paper-based office management systems they’ve used for decades.

 

Fortunately, a
wide variety of healthcare solutions are now available that can help physicians
and support staff work more efficiently and productively. The digital medical
practice of the future will include wireless networking, Internet
communications, and digital record-keeping systems designed to automate many
manual tasks that have been proven to enhance overall quality of care. However,
for any healthcare solution to succeed, it must be built upon a sound
medical-grade network infrastructure.

 

Systems offers
a suite of robust, intelligent network technologies that deliver the
performance and security healthcare practices demand. Whether supporting simple
broadband Internet solutions or full-scale digital medical record systems, it
can provide a network solution that meets your practice’s unique needs. Drawing
on years of experience working with the most successful healthcare
organizations in the world, partners and resellers can deliver the technology
and expertise to dramatically enhance the way you run your medical practice.

 

The Need for Medical-Grade
Network Solutions in Healthcare

Physician
practices of all sizes face many of the same demands and challenges. Practices
must find new ways to:

Improve quality
of care—Responding to public concern about medical errors, practices are
striving to reduce reliance on handwritten records and implement better systems
for tracking procedures and prescriptions. For many practices, improving
quality isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also a business imperative.
Insurers increasingly link group participation and reimbursement rates to
pay-for-performance

quality
metrics. Many insurers are also promoting health management programs for
patients with chronic problems such as diabetes or high cholesterol. To
participate in these programs and better serve their patients, practices must
be able to efficiently document patient interactions, automate communications,
and provide clinical best practices based on clinical knowledge base systems.

 

Reduce costs
and improve profitability—The success or failure of a practice depends on the
productivity of physicians and their staff. And too often, skilled caregivers
spend the bulk of their time doing paperwork instead of treating patients.
According to AC Group, Inc., the average practice in 2004 spends 18 percent
more time on paperwork than they did in 1998. This reliance on paper-based medical records also places a huge burden on practices, adding
substantial costs for record storage and administrative support staff. Larger
practices can see transcription costs alone reach more than $1 million per
year. Too often, physicians are also under-compensated for the work they
perform, as many will “downcode” what should be a higher-compensated
interaction just to save time and paperwork. Studies by AC Group have shown
financial loss due to downcoding can reach as high as 15 percent of practice
revenues.

 

Enhance
organizational efficiency—Practices must see more patients than ever before to
remain financially viable, while the documentation required for each patient
interaction is steadily increasing. Simply maintaining paper-based records can
be an enormous challenge, as staff must deal with lost charts, duplicate
records, and records that are out of the office for days or weeks during
transcription. Practices are also searching for ways to streamline
communications with insurers and pharmacies, and speed reimbursement
processing.

 

Guarantee
information privacy and security— Government regulations, such as the U.S.
Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), mandate strict
privacy measures and guidelines for securing healthcare information. As
practices move to digitize information, a locked file cabinet or record room is
no longer sufficient to protect confidential patient data. Practices that fail
to adequately protect patient information can face fines, legal liability, and
worst of all, loss of confidence among patients and partners.

 

Provide a
better patient experience—As practices see more patients, physicians are
struggling to provide personal attention and ensure patients are not
inconvenienced. Practices are searching for new ways to streamline the
appointment-making process, reduce time spent on hold or in a waiting room, and
enable administrative staff to more quickly locate information and respond when
patients call with a question.

 

Healthcare Solutions for
Physician Groups and Clinics

To respond to
these demands, physician practices are deploying a host of new technologies to
streamline workflow, automate manual and paper-based processes, and improve
overall patient care. These include:

 

Mobility
solutions—Wireless-enabled computer kiosks, pocket PCs, tablet PCs, and IP
phones put information at caregivers’ fingertips, and bring digital records and
network applications to the bedside. Remote connectivity solutions allow
physicians to securely access medical records and applications from anywhere,
at anytime, on almost any device, over the Internet via secured connections.

 

Electronic
medical record (EMR)—These solutions digitize manual, paper-based records,
provide best practice clinical knowledge base information, streamline
record-keeping processes, and provide a single, comprehensive view of the
patient. EMR systems incorporate all aspects of patient interactions, from
medical and family histories, to health maintenance reminders for chronic
conditions, to drug interactions, to automatic insurance coding. Most
importantly, an EMR system makes patient information universally and instantly
accessible to all authorized caregivers and staff, eliminating the need to hunt
for paper-based charts.

 

Document
imaging—Imaging applications enable practices to smoothly make the transition
from paper-based system to digital. These applications can rapidly integrate
paper records into a network-based system, and eliminate the huge costs of
storing, maintaining, and retrieving thousands of medical charts.

 

Web
connectivity—Practices increasingly use the Internet to communicate with
insurers, pharmacies, and even patients. The ability to securely transmit
medical information online can speed claims processing and streamline
communications with other facilities.

 

While solutions
like these were once only possible for large hospitals and medical groups,
technological innovations and falling prices have made them viable options for
smaller practices. However, to reap the benefits of modern healthcare
solutions, practices need a robust, reliable medical-grade network
infrastructure to support them. Such a network must deliver the optimal
performance and security that medical applications demand, but in a way that
can be easily managed by a small practice with little or no IT expertise.

 

 

A full suite of
network solutions to support a single physician office, a large clinic, and
everything in between. These solutions incorporate industry-leading technology
and expertise, but in affordable, highly manageable packages designed to fit
even the smallest practices. These solutions include:

 

Wireless
local-area networks (WLANs)—Wireless networks give caregivers greater mobility
by delivering critical patient information wherever they need it, over a wide
range of computing platforms. Aironet® wireless access points
deliver superior performance and manageability, along with the stringent
security required when sharing sensitive information in a wireless environment.

 

Core network
devices—Offers a larger portfolio of network routers, switches, and security
solutions than any other network technology provider. From small office routing
and security to intelligent, high-speed switches serving hundreds of users,
access routers, Catalyst® switches, and PIX® Security
Appliances deliver unparalleled intelligence, scalability, and performance.

 

Remote connectivity—
Secure IP virtual private networks (VPNs) enable practices to safely extend
healthcare applications and information to remote facilities, hospitals,
medical conferences, and even physician’s homes by encrypting data as it
travels over the Internet. With a VPN, healthcare information cannot be
compromised, intercepted, or read by anyone other than the authorized
recipient.  Offers both hardware and
software VPN solutions for end-users, and all access routers and security
appliances offer built-in support for VPN connectivity.

 

Network
security— Security solutions can protect sensitive data across the entire wired
and wireless infrastructure, from the

 

network core to
the physician’s home office and everywhere in between. Using these secure
routers and switches, firewall security appliances, intrusion detection
services, and network management tools, practices can protect themselves
against even the most serious security threats.

 

Of course, not
every practice needs all of these components. Larger practices considering a
full transition to a paperless office need a full-featured, end-to-end
medical-grade network solution. Smaller practices may start with just a small
wireless LAN or secure Internet access. In all cases, its expert partners and
resellers can provide the technology, experience, and support to help you make
the right choices for your organization.

 

NETWORK SOLUTION BENEFITS FOR
PHYSICIAN GROUPS AND CLINICS

 

Healthcare
solutions built on a robust, secure network infrastructure can deliver a wide
range of benefits to both clinical caregivers and support staff. These
solutions can enable:

 

Improved
patient care and safety—Digital clinical applications and real-time information
sharing result in a more unified, up-to-date view of the patient, and faster,
more accurate care. Physicians who can update records, look up potential drug
reactions, and write digital prescriptions right in the examination room can
substantially reduce the errors and delays associated with handwritten,
paper-based systems. Studies from AC Group have shown that average medical
costs per year can decrease by as much as 13 percent with certified EMR
systems.

 

Enhanced
profitability and reduced costs—Practices that make full use of solutions like
EMR and practice management systems can usually see more patients and add more
physicians to the practice without increasing support staff. When dealing with
insurers, these solutions can speed insurer payments, reduce documentation, and
eliminate undercoding of patient interactions. Practices that can better
document patient interactions and quality can also qualify for reduced
malpractice insurance rates. Moving to digital record-keeping also dramatically
reduces the costs and labor of creating, managing, copying, and storing paper
files. Measuring supplies and storage costs alone, some industry groups
estimate EMR can save $3 per new chart—a potential savings of thousands or tens
of thousands per year. On average, AC Group has documented improved
profitability of between $12.50 and $25 per patient visit.

 

Improved
efficiency—When clinical staff can access comprehensive, real-time patient
records by simply clicking a mouse (instead of having to hunt down a paper
file), they can much more rapidly answer questions, process claims, and prepare
physicians. EMR systems can dynamically integrate with
insurers, for instance, notifying caregivers which drugs are covered each time
they write a prescription. The increased mobility afforded by wireless devices
and remote connectivity allows physicians to work effectively wherever and
whenever they choose. Most importantly, networked solutions and automated
systems allow caregivers to spend more of their time seeing patients, instead
of doing paperwork. On average, AC Group estimates that physicians can save
about four hours per week, nurses save six hours per week per physician, and
staff save an average of eight hours per week per physician.

 

 

Better patient
experience—Network-enabled healthcare solutions can provide noticeable
improvements at all stages of patient interaction. Secure Web-based services
can speed the pre-registration and check-in process. Instant access to patient
medical records can help clinicians better stay on schedule, reduce wait times,
and enable fast, often instantaneous responses when patients call with
questions. With a secure network, practices can even extend Web-based services
and information to patient waiting rooms. According to AC Group, physicians
with enhanced digital technology have reported a 32 percent improvement in
patient satisfaction.

 

Prevention of a
damaging security breach—The costs of even a single security breach can be
substantial, including lost data, lost productivity, diminished patient
confidence, and large fines and penalties. By building solutions upon a highly
secure, intelligent network infrastructure, healthcare practices can avoid all
of these pitfalls and use new solutions with confidence.

 

STRATEGIC CONSIDERATIONS FOR
PHYSICIAN GROUPS AND CLINICS

 

Could your
practice benefit from modern healthcare systems and technologies? Consider the
following strategic questions to assess your requirements for network-enabled
solutions:

 

Quality of
care—Does your practice occasionally face errors or duplicated procedures as a
result of illegible or incomplete paper records? Would physicians benefit from
having real-time patient, insurer, and drug information available in the
examination room via pocket or tablet PCs? Do your record-keeping systems allow
you to identify patients with chronic conditions and stay in communication with
them to ensure they keep up with their treatment?

 

Efficiency of
workflow systems—Can clinicians and support staff locate patient records
quickly and easily throughout the workday? Does your practice frequently deal
with lost, incomplete, or duplicated records? How much time do skilled
caregivers spend documenting interactions? How much time could be saved if they
could document interactions digitally, in real time during the patient visit?

 

Practice
profitability—Are physicians spending the bulk of their time seeing patients,
or performing administrative tasks? Are physicians being fully compensated for
the work they perform, or are they under coding to cut down on paperwork? Do
you require several full-time employees just to maintain paper-based medical
records?

 

Working with
insurers—Are you relying on phone and mail to communicate with insurers? Do you
currently have to wait weeks or months before receiving payment? Would you
qualify for different provider groups or higher reimbursement rates if you
could better document quality?

 

Information
security—Are your current or planned information systems in compliance with
privacy regulations? Can you protect patient data at every point within your
network?

 

Technology
expertise—Do you have the internal expertise to effectively deploy and manage
network-enabled healthcare solutions? Or would you benefit from working with a
technology partner with extensive experience deploying and supporting
healthcare systems?

 

DEPLOYMENT CONSIDERATIONS AND
QUESTIONS

 

While large
practices may have an experienced IT staff to manage deployment, smaller
practices should strongly consider working with a technology partner. Certified
resellers and partners have a wealth of experience, both with network technologies
and healthcare processes and systems. These partners can manage all aspects of
planning and deploying network solutions, allowing practices to focus on
medicine.

 

Practices should
consider the following five areas before deploying a network security solution:

 

Strategy—Understand
your healthcare solution needs and objectives, and make sure you have the
support of senior clinical and administrative staff. Identify and quantify the
benefits you expect to gain from the solution ahead of time, so you can measure
the effectiveness of the deployment.

 

Process—Work
with a technology partner to clearly define the methods and practice for
implementing a network-enabled solution. What network solutions does your
practice currently have in place? How will these systems, as well as current
workflow processes, integrate with the new solution?

 

People—Practice
structure and culture must support your strategy and goals. Proper training of
everyone who will interact with the system is critical, as is working with both
clinical and support staff in the early planning stages to ensure that the
system will meet everyone’s needs.

 

Technology—Reliable,
scalable, and manageable computer networks, applications, and tools are
essential to an effective healthcare solution implementation, as is
interoperability with your existing IT environment. Will you need to upgrade
your network to support the solutions you want to deploy now and in the future?

 

Service and
support—Do you have an experienced office IT staff, and if so, do they have the
skills, equipment, and access to implement and support the solution? Will you
need to use outside services to plan, design, deploy, and support your network
solution?

 

 

TIMELINE

 

Deployment
timing can vary greatly depending on the type of solution you intend to
implement. A small wireless LAN can be fully deployed in hours or days. A
full-featured solution incorporating wireless, EMR, document imaging, and
comprehensive security will naturally take longer.

 

One of the
benefits of this network technologies is that you don’t need to deploy the full
solution all at once. Practices can start with a limited deployment, and
incrementally expand the solution later as needs change. Network technologies
are flexible enough to scale with a practice as it grows.

 

Regardless of
the size of the implementation, a typical deployment timeline should include
the following basic elements:

 

Organizational
assessment and strategy development—Work with your technology partner to
determine the current state of your practice’s network infrastructure, obtain
the support of senior stakeholders, and develop a strategic vision for your
healthcare solutions.

 

Evaluate and
select technology—Let your partner help you determine the best software and
hardware to support your needs and strategic vision. Prioritize your criteria:
interoperability, scalability, performance, etc.

 

Build model and
test—Your technology partner and your staff will connect organizational
processes to technology features (a process known as “mapping”), customize
configurations, and conduct testing.

 

 

Train—Familiarize
users with new technology, tools, processes, and operating activities.

 

Full
deployment—Implement the full solution to the entire practice and network.

 

 

Figure 1 illustrates a sample implementation timeline for a
healthcare practice with up to 50 physicians.

 

 

Figure 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SUCCESS MEASUREMENTS

 

The most
important benefit of a healthcare network solution is the ability to better
serve your patients. But network solutions for physician practices and clinics
can deliver other measurable benefits, including:

 

Improved
patient care through greater access to information

 

Increased
flexibility as to where and how clinicians work

 

Reduced errors
by eliminating paper-based systems

 

Reduced costs
through streamlining manual processes and eliminating paper files

 

Faster claims
processing and higher reimbursement rates

 

Ability to see
more patients with a smaller support staff

 

Ability to
locate information and answer questions more quickly

 

Reduced patient
wait times

 

Faster, easier
pre-registration

 

Compliance with
privacy regulations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SUMMARY

 

With mounting
pressure from insurers, government agencies, and patients, physician practices
need to reexamine the ways they work and interact. As physicians see more
patients and insurers demand more documentation, the manual healthcare systems
that were adequate in the past will become less and less able to meet new
demands. This can help you build a network foundation that will optimize your
workflow systems and grow with your practice—even if you don’t have a large IT
staff.

 

These solutions
are not just for large organizations. It offers the widest range of
technologies in the networking industry, and offers solutions for
single-physician practices, large, multi-site clinics, and everything in
between. By working with these methods today, you can begin to implement the
solutions that will transform the way you operate your practice, and lay a
foundation for new levels of quality, efficiency, and profitability.