Technology improvements to advance the HME provider
Over the last few years, the information technology services available to HME providers have been evolving. These services continue to expand in the areas of automating manual tasks along with expanding of integrations to other external services. It is the responsibility of the technology service providers to continuously create and expand its offerings to the HME providers so they can do more with less. All HME providers must continue to evaluate on a regular basis, ideally annually, their current technology configurations. It is well known that the reductions in reimbursements, rising labor costs and other external threats are forcing changes in how the HME of today functions compared to those just in the last five years. Organizations that continue to operate in the same way they have in the past will have a dismal future ahead of them. Currently, there is a surge and an urgency to move towards mobile technology. This is a new, innovative and exciting time with regards to what the future may provide. However, mobile technology and the supporting services needed are still evolving. The ultimate goal of having everything at the employee’s fingertips and being completely paper-free is still in its infancy. There are workable mobile solutions available today for drivers, technicians and therapists who are continuously travelling and interacting with patients on a daily basis. The HME provider should start to evaluate and consider these types of solutions for their organization. Not all solutions are the same. It is important the information is safe and secure and follows the proper HIPAA and HITECH requirements. Not all solutions may provide this functionality. A device should not store any information about the patient or any other critical data, unless the provider can guarantee if it is ever lost or stolen the data stored on it may never be accessed. If the mobile device stores information, it will be the burden of the HME provider, not the software provider, to protect its contents. The ideal solution is one where the data is hosted off the device and is then accessed directly, real-time with the organization’s practice management system. The concept of a direct connection from mobile devices is not always implemented by most technology solutions providers. Some options on the market need an expensive dedicated hardware device along with forcing a download of information to the unit each time it is used and then later require an upload process when returning to the office. A successful and growing HME business is dynamic and changes at any moment during the day. The provider needs to service their patients quickly, accurately and above all professionally, while keeping cost of operations in check. If a mobile solution does not have a real-time connection that is able to put the employee in constant contact with others in the company, it is missing the ability to provide instant feedback, notification and even automation of manual tasks that are normally performed in its practice management system. Without this type of technology in place, the provider must perform manual steps to communicate all the necessary information to its employees. Interactions with the patient and other related activities are performed at a slower rate. The ability to immediately address any urgent situations that have come up during the day is also greatly reduced. Wireless technology is still evolving and will continue to improve in the future. Being totally mobile for all employees is not realistic for all providers. Urban areas may have a nearly complete cellular and Wi-Fi coverage area, but this is not always true just outside the city limits and surely not the same in rural areas. A provider will find themselves behind their competition if they try to wait on the sidelines for the communication technology to completely catch up for all of their needs before making this type of technology improvement. Creativity is the key to success. Whenever possible, using more than one cellular and mobile service for its connectivity will provide not only the flexible mobile coverage needed, but also a backup solution should there be technical issues with the other one. Once again, back to reality. There will still be those employees that will not have a reliable wireless connection for some time or maybe never. They will still need to do business the old fashion way. A provider should not let the fact that a small percentage of their workforce is unable to use mobile technology and sacrifice all the benefits and gains this type of automation offers. To be a successful provider in this market, there must be an examination of all the inflows and outflows of information to and from the organization. Integration with external sources of business data will greatly reduce operation costs and improve the accuracy of information. A successful integration will require a flexible, stable and robust Application Programming Interface (API) that is designed to work within the organization’s information system. Without an API into the database, the provider is limited with its integrations or is exposed to additional risks. Having any kind of direct access into the database table structure puts the provider at risk with future updates to their primary software or even exposes a risk to data corruption. Developing integrations will be much slower and costly without an API that is provided by the software vendor of the information system. As a provider grows and needs these advanced integrations, they may need to seek a replacement to their entire practice management system if it is not able to offer the flexibility and robust interoperability that it will need to be successful. An ongoing trend with hospital sponsored providers is the real-time data feed of information from the hospital’s electronic medical record (EMR) directly into the provider’s information system via an HL7 protocol. This information contains all the patient details and clinical data needed for the HME provider and will automatically insert or update the patient directly without any employee being involved. When a patient is discharged from the hospital, within minutes, all of the details are pushed into the HME provider’s database for prompt and accurate service. Variants to this model also include real-time, ad hoc queries directly into the EMR to retrieve a patient’s information based upon a unique medical record number that is shared within the entire health system. Other inflows of information for compliance and outcomes are becoming more and more critical. This is important data to have available and completed for prompt reimbursement. It is no longer just CMS that requires these types of documents, more and more payers are adding similar documentation requirements. Many product manufacturers, such as those offering CPAP, now have their own data collection mechanisms established that will obtain the required documentation and critical clinical values for the patient. Integrations directly from these sources will provide the necessary information and significantly reduce the overall cost involved with obtaining and maintaining patient compliance. Information technology is dynamic and continues to offer new innovated solutions to the provider with the automation of manual tasks, mobility and integrated access to critical business data. Technology exists today that will greatly improve operational performance and reduce overall costs, but it requires the HME provider to continuously examine themselves and develop the necessary strategic plan to implement these new types of tools for their business. Small continuous bites, a little at a time, will permit the provider to overcome and succeed with the larger technical challenges they face. Jumping all in quickly without a well thought plan and also equally important, a technical solution partner that will stand alongside them, will be very costly and most likely end up being an unsuccessful implementation of these new technical options.