Leveraging New Technology for Better Collaboration in a Value-Centered World

Collaborative care is becoming more important to all healthcare providers, including physical therapists, with the onset of regulations designed to strengthen the link between reimbursement and performance.

For example, the 2019 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule proposal shows that the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) is focusing equally on both the quality and cost of care. Simultaneously, the agency is also addressing the importance of interoperability between healthcare partners.

But while we often discuss strategies on how to improve these collaborative relationships, cost and quality, we don’t always talk about the most important criteria for selecting the tools and technologies that will best serve a PT’s ongoing needs for better collaboration.

The right technology tools can help improve patient engagement communication and outcomes, while also lowering overall costs. As such, PTs should consider which communications technologies align with larger goals that are conducive to value-based care.

But let’s face it — technology can be overwhelming. PTs already have enough on their plates. Also, with hundreds of options available — from electronic health records (EHRs) to scheduling software to patient portals — it’s easy, as a PT, to get flooded with too much information, paralyzing providers from making decisions.

Instead of wading through the trenches of the web, it’s best think of your technology evaluation process as a three-step process.

Step One: Take Inventory

Before beginning a search of potentially new collaborative technologies to implement, evaluate what you currently use in your physical therapy practice for communications and documentation (e.g., your practice management system, EHR or other software).

During this initial step, it’s best to ask questions to adequately determine whether the technology is robust enough to move forward in a collaboration-centered healthcare industry:

For example: Does the EHR or other technology help PTs track a patient’s progress? Is the technology solution interoperable with other providers’ systems, outside of the one in your practice, so a PT can transmit and receive critical information (such as a patient’s current medications)? Can the technologies in your PT practice scale easily as the organization’s needs evolve over time?

Honest answers to these questions will likely reveal what your next move should be. If a physical therapy practice feels uncertain about the technological capabilities after asking these questions, there’s a good chance that the existing solutions aren’t up to par and a change needs to be made.

Step Two: Envision What Optimal Collaboration Looks Like

It’s easy to talk about collaboration and embracing the spirit of value-based care. But following through on real, impactful collaboration with other providers can be difficult if there’s no preparation or vision on your part before setting out to foster those collaborative relationships.

The reality is that PTs need a strong combination of people, processes and technology. In what ways does your existing arsenal of tools support ongoing goals? What do you need to improve?

In considering these questions, your vision of optimal collaboration should begin to emerge. Perhaps your practice could implement smarter scheduling and billing tools, or a better messaging system to improve communication with primary-care physicians in your area, or even patients.

Step Three: Take Action

Once you take inventory of what you currently have in your practice and consider your future collaboration needs, it will be easier to map out the appropriate technology purchases and upgrades.

For example, you may realize that utilizing smarter billing and scheduling technologies can relieve the logistical and administrative headaches of integrated care. When seeking out an EHR that supports your practice, search for one that is dedicated to streamlining documentation and will help your practice become more efficient in these areas.

On the other hand, you may realize that you’ve had the right EHR or other technology solutions all along — but have been underutilizing them. If this is the case, it’s time to leverage your investment and experience the benefits your PT practice has been missing out on all this time.

The trend toward value-based care is gaining momentum. Whether participating in MIPS reporting or not, embracing value-based care, and subsequently, collaborative care, with the right technological tools can make a huge difference in PT’s long-term success as new regulations take hold.

Charles Hutchinson is a financial and regulatory healthcare expert who serves as the chief financial officer of InSync, a technology solutions provider that makes specialty EHRs for physical therapy practices.

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