Over the past two decades, digital technology has crept into our homes and lives like a stray cat that came in through the window and planted itself in our living room corner before we had a chance to say otherwise. And honestly, most people were pretty excited to get this cat. It increased our connectedness to the world, gave us access to unlimited knowledge and resources, solved a lot of our daily problems, and—okay, my metaphor isn’t perfect. (If cats could do all that, I might be less of a dog person.)
The point is, while some people are still getting used to this ever-present guest, we all interact with digital tech multiple times a day—especially in the clinic. Documentation, scheduling, and billing software form a near-constant presence in private practices across the country. But, the innovation doesn’t stop there; software vendors continually churn out new products to solve problems you probably didn’t even know you had. But snapping up every piece of tech on the market does not a good tech stack make. In fact, Russell Olsen, WebPT’s Senior Vice President of Innovation and Product Management, suggests strategically evaluating software solutions using a handful of standardized criteria. That way, you won’t get bogged down—financially or operationally—with solutions you don’t really need.
Start with the basics.
When building your clinic’s ideal tech stack (i.e., the collection of software solutions you use to manage your business), Olsen recommends starting with the non-negotiables—the pieces of tech that every clinic needs, regardless of size. Specifically, be sure that you’ve picked up:
- a documentation software,
- a billing solution,
- a scheduling software, and
- a patient-facing home exercise program (HEP).
These solutions are necessities; they help clinics perform critical daily functions, and while clinic leaders have lots of potential vendors to choose from, having these solutions on deck is not a choice—full stop.
Identify areas where technology could improve your clinic.
While it may be tempting to run out and pick up the latest and greatest rehab therapy software (especially when the ads make it look so incredibly helpful), Olsen cautions against buying technology for technology’s sake. Instead, he recommends evaluating your clinic’s actual needs by asking yourself the following questions:
What are your process gaps?
Very few clinics (if any) have a 100% optimized and streamlined business process. No one is perfect, and as a natural result of that, clinic leaders will be able to find opportunities for tech-driven improvement. But Olsen doesn’t recommend diving into a pool of tech solutions right away. “Pull out a whiteboard, sketch out your processes, figure out where things are going wrong—or where they could go wrong—and ask yourself if you can solve those problems with tech,” he says. “Don’t pick up a technology just because everyone else is doing it.”
For those clinic owners looking to expand sometime in the future, Olsen recommends placing a major focus on scalability. “Pick apart your process and ask yourself where you need more scale—more efficiency,” he says. “If you’re a single provider-owner, all the responsibilities of marketing, referral management, and general biz-ops fall on your shoulders. If you think about growing and scaling, eventually you’ll want someone else to handle those responsibilities—and you’ll want to consider the tech they use.”
What’s the patient experience from couch to claim?
Clinic leaders can also suss out their tech needs by evaluating the patient experience—from the moment the patient sees initial outreach marketing (i.e., “couch”) to the moment they pay their final bill (i.e., “claim”).
“Start with asking, ‘How do patients find me?’” Olsen suggests. “Figure out if you’re driving your business off of direct patient marketing, or if you’re getting most of your business from referrals.” This can significantly affect the type of technology you purchase; consider the difference between a referral management solution and a patient marketing solution.
Then, it’s time to think about what happens once a patient enters your practice. What’s their experience digitally and physically? Ask yourself questions like:
- Do patients have access to online intake forms?
- Am I applying tools and/or tech that make communication easier?
- What do my phone systems look like?
- Can patients text me?
- Would a live chat option on my clinic’s website improve the patient experience?
- How are we booking appointments—and can we make it easier?
- Am I making it easy for patients to pay me?
“There are a lot of things you can do nowadays with digital tools in terms of communication,” Olsen says. The trick is identifying which solutions will have the biggest positive impact in your clinic—particularly from the patient’s perspective—and prioritizing from there.
Determine whether your tech is adaptable.
Technology is evolving so quickly that it’s nearly outpacing itself. That’s why Olsen says it’s important to consider your clinic’s future needs in addition to your current ones. “If I were running my business, one of the first things I would think about is the flexibility and adaptability of my technology,” he says.
He suggests asking yourself if your current tech (or a tech solution you’re considering) is evolving alongside consumerism, patient demand, and the rapid advancement of technology. “If I need to change out that tech in the future, will I be stuck with something I can’t get rid of?” he posits.
When evaluating an existing (or new) software’s flexibility and adaptability, Olsen says clinic owners should scope out how often software updates occur. “Understand how often things change, how often new features are added, and how it adapts and evolves with the environment changing around it,” he says. Olsen also cautions against partnering with software companies that have identified one valuable product and refuse to innovate because they consider it their cash cow. “That’s when products become outdated and obsolete,” he says.
Consider the cost of implementing new technology.
When weighing the costs and the benefits of implementing a new technology, some clinic owners focus on calculating the return on investment (ROI)—but that may not be the best evaluation point. “If I look at cost savings, a new software could prevent me from needing a new hire, or it could give someone capacity to do more things,” Olsen points out. “But ROI isn’t always that straightforward. If I don’t look at a process as a whole, I might create a whole bunch of ROI point solutions where I’m improving my efficiency, but I’m ‘losing’ money.”
On the flipside, clinic owners need to watch out for the hidden costs of implementing new technology. “I see this a lot,” Olsen says. “We don’t always think about the total cost of a software. Do you know how to use it? Do you have to maintain that software? Will it come with other costs to improve or maintain? You have to think about the total cost of the software—not just the monthly charge that hits your card.”
How do you measure ROI?
If you do want to measure the ROI of your tech solutions, Olsen says it’s critical that you define your success metrics right off the bat—and benchmark them off something tangible. “The challenge is, if I made someone more efficient, do I have other metrics in place to measure whether that efficiency was beneficial in another way?” he says. “If I make someone five times more efficient, where did that efficiency go? How are they filling their spare time?”
Understand the barriers to change.
When implementing new tech in a rehab practice, the biggest difference between single-provider clinics and gargantuan enterprise organizations is the barriers to change. “As a small clinic, your barriers to change are really quite low.” Olsen says. “There’s a lot of flexibility and ability to try new things. Your patient volumes are typically such that if you try something that doesn’t work, your chance of catastrophic failure is quite low.”
According to Olsen, multi-location owners face much higher barriers to change: “Change management becomes an important topic. As you grow, inefficiencies get magnified and communication starts getting more difficult.” That’s why it’s critical to, as an owner or executive in a multi-location practice, think critically about the inefficiencies in your processes (including your communication and training processes) and coordinate between clinics to make sure everyone is operating on the same page.
Digital technology may have crept into our lives like a mischievous cat, but it’s clearly here to stay, and we all have to learn to work with (or around) our omnipresent companion. But with the right tools and strategies, you can make technology work for you and improve your professional life for the better.