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10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Software System
Readers share how they went from tech-shy to tech-savvy.
Judith Lee
Publish Date: June 9, 2008   |  Tags:   Healthcare IT
Experienced surgical managers say they'd be lost without computer software that helps with everything from scheduling to collecting case data to electronic billing. At the same time, there's a learning curve when working with today's systems.

"We're doing a lot more now with our system than we were when we went live in June 1999," says Michael O'Reilly, MD, of the University of Michigan Health Center, who uses Centricity software from GE Medical Systems Information Technologies. "The software already ?knew' its job, but we didn't know how to make it work for us."

Dr. O'Reilly and others say the length of your learning curve can be shortened by several factors, including proper selection, training and tech support, and an understanding of how to harness system capabilities. Users of eight perioperative software systems offer these tips to help you get the most from your system.

1. Go for ease of use. When selecting software, always seek a system that's easy to use. This will make installation go more smoothly, simplify training, and enable you to use more sophisticated functions sooner.

"We chose our system because it's Windows-based. If you know how to use Windows, you can use it," notes Donna Benham, Administrator of Altamonte Surgery Center, Altamonte, Fla., and user of AdvantX software from HealthIS.

Westfall Surgery Center in Rochester, NY, was able to have Endosoft software from Utech Products on trial before buying it in 1998. This proved to Donna Winters, Health Information Manager, that it offered the ease of use the center needed.

"It's really just ?drag and drop' and you have a doctor's report or letter. The doctors here really like it," Ms. Winters says. She notes that this user-friendly aspect has enabled her to provide ongoing training: "I do the training myself because it's so easy to learn."

2. Select comprehensive software. Several health care managers note that their use of software increased rapidly once it was installed. They advise shopping for a product that has comprehensive features, even if you don't think you will need or use them.

"We may not use 100 percent of the software features all of the time, but we use all the features at one time or another. At first we were most interested in the inventory and claims processing modules, but now we use report writing and case cost modules even more," notes Linda Kirk, Executive Director of Grand Valley Surgical Center in Grand Rapids, Mich., and user of SurgeOn software from Camberley Systems.

The comprehensive structure of Practice Management Plus software from American Medical Software has kept it current for a dozen years of use by Myriam Kilpatrick, owner of MK Billing, a large medical billing service in Henderson, Nev.: "We've been using this software since we started. We do billing for several specialties and practice management for a large anesthesia group. We use all of the system's capabilities."

There's an important caveat when assessing how well the software can meet your current and future needs. Make sure it is already capable of handling all of your facility's functions, rather than having some modules in development.

"There can be a big difference between what the software can do and what it does do. All you really care about is what it does do," notes Dr. O'Reilly.

3. Obtain the most training/tech support. An important consideration for installation and ongoing use is training and tech support provided by the vendor. ASC managers advise you to look for on-site training, training updates, and speed of response on technical problems.

"When we selected this software, the customer service is what put it over the top. I went to California for a week of training, and then [Source Medical] sent an on-site trainer for a week. They are always available to us by e-mail and telephone. Two of our managers have gone to retraining workshops," notes Deb Lieb, Administrator of Susquehanna Valley Surgery Center, Harrisburg, Pa., and user of SIS-SurgiSource software from Source Medical.

"One thing we were told by other users, and have found is true, is that you will always underestimate your need for training. Utech sent trainers to our site, and we did one-on-one training with our physicians. We had to invest a lot of time to get them comfortable with the system," notes Gail Greco-Bieri, System Administrator of the Endoscopy Center, Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids, Mich., and user of Endosoft software.

Ms. Greco-Bieri says that installation in August 2001 presented technical challenges, such as getting the system running in a Wide Area Network (WAN), getting the hardware to accept the software, and running some screens. These were resolved as Utech worked with the organization's IT team.

"We found that IT's input was invaluable, both when we negotiated the contract and then during installation of the software. If a surgery center doesn't have any IT people on staff, it would probably be worthwhile to bring in an IT consultant right from the start," Ms. Greco-Bieri adds.

4. Re-engineer your work process. Although most managers agree that installing software is a challenge, some point out that it's an opportunity to reassess your work processes to streamline care.

"You can take a look at the entire work process and reengineer it," says Dr. O'Reilly. "When we had a paper-based system, we used three-part forms, which were delivered to three different places. Once we had the electronic system, that delivery job was eliminated. The end result was positive, but it took some getting used to. Now we have to think about the best way to use the time of the person who used to deliver the forms."