Shame on Health IT

I’m willing to bet were I to ask anyone even remotely associated with healthcare IT, that person would wax poetically about how collective efforts are helping to advance the speed and quality of healthcare. I’d hear boasts of breakthroughs in all areas of medicine, drug discovery, imaging, lab procedures, and surgery as well as recovery and rehabilitation methods.

Be it ambulatory- or hospital-based care, all those advancements have made a big impact on the care and treatment of the patient. I can find nothing wrong with initiatives that yield a faster, better end result for any man, woman, or child who requires medical treatment.

Why, then, after having benefitted from 21st century state-of-the-art healthcare, does the patient get time-warped back to the 1950s when it comes to providing the bill? If the last impression left with a patient after receiving state-of-the-art care is an antiquated management and billing process, could s/he not question everything that’s happened in the examining room?

My point is simple: shame on the health IT industry as the advancements made on the clinical side of patient care have far outpaced the comparably meager improvements that have been made on the financial side. Don’t deny it, especially when you know that healthcare providers have played a major role in maintaining the existence of the US Postal Service, printer companies, toner suppliers, envelope makers, and a bunch of related entities.

Yes, shame for not embracing technology on the business side with the same determination so dramatically shown on the clinical side. What’s worse, the underpinnings for an automated patient bill and balance management system has been in place almost as long as practice management software has helped run practices, from the individual doctor to multi-office physician groups and multi-state hospital networks.

The need for every software vendor and billing company to get to the point where they are actually helping the patient manage and meet her/his financial obligations is very great and very much of the here and now. Not to mention the disservice that they are doing to the very clients who they claim to help … by not providing a tool to help medical practices keep their accounts receivable in check and drive them towards profitability instead of languishing with large back office overhead.

The high deductible health plan (HDHP) isn’t going away. Rather it is only going to grow, bringing with it change that must be dealt with in the business offices of healthcare providers and the homes of all their patients. The shift of the primary payment responsibility coming from the health insurer to an even split with that organization and the patient is here now and not helping practices collect those balances is negligent on health IT’s part.

As a practice’s A/R gets out of hand, one of two things will happen: the practice will be sold, either to a large physicians’ group or a hospital, or the doctor takes down her/his shingle and ends a career. Either way, the practice management software vendor and/or the billing company lose a customer.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Unless, of course, you want to continue to keep medical business offices operating like it’s still “Happy Days.”  Keep that attitude and there’s a good chance your company won’t be happy or healthy, especially if it makes practice management software.