The IT systems at the Plastic Surgery Center of Hampton Roads (PSC) really needed a face-lift.
The antiquated IT infrastructure of the busy Newport News, Va.-based plastic surgery practice gradually had led to operational inefficiencies, including unnecessarily long patient wait times and poor interoffice communication. An even bigger concern was that paper-based patient sign-in procedures were conceivably leaving the practice vulnerable to invasion of privacy claims.
PSC had some other technology-related problems to deal with as well. For one, it wasn't possible to instantly check a patient's status if a friend or relative called. Surgeons, who get paid $1,500-$2,500 per hour, often lost time due to delays in patient processing. Finally, PSC risked losing accreditation if it didn't update its registration process to comply with guidelines laid out by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
It was clear to PSC's administrative staff that the practice needed a more modern system if it wanted to remain competitive and project a modern image, even with the popularity of liposuction and other cosmetic surgeries growing fast.
"Sign-in sheets really weren't the greatest thing in the world," said Patty Stibbs, PSC's administrator. "So, we started talking about an electronic sign-in."
The technology transformation
PSC's transformation needed to be quick and painless, and it had to be done on a fairly tight budget. The practice, which serves 600-700 patients per week, has no IT department of its own. It decided to bring in consultants from Ascendant Technologies Inc. to help get things started.
Ascendant, an IBM business partner, helped PSC put together a prototype for an electronic sign-in process. The prototype is similar to the touchpads that many large retailers have for customers paying with credit or debit cards.
The company then suggested bringing in some additional IBM products, such as WebSphere Portal and Lotus Instant Messaging, to enhance the new system's functionality.
"Ascendant brought IBM into the picture and said we can make this into something more," Stibbs said. "We can make this a viable entity and make it do what you want it to do."
PSC deployed WebSphere on its single Windows NT server, and the portal now serves as a single interface for instant messaging, for electronic document handling and for processing information about patient registration.
The different operating rooms, recovery rooms and other sections of PSC's 14,000-square-foot ambulatory surgery center are now constantly in communication through Lotus Instant Messaging. When a patient comes into the center and uses the new electronic sign-in system, a notification is automatically sent to the doctor and any other parties who need to see that patient, Stibbs said.
Results from the new IT systems
With the new software and sign-in systems in place, PSC was able to comply with the HIPAA rules and increase communications and productivity. The price for all this came to about $20,000, Stibbs said.
One of the reasons the price for the implementation was low was because the firm didn't purchase that much hardware, other than the electronic sign-in tablet and a couple of new workstations to help spread instant messaging around the surgery facility.
The $20,000 figure also included the cost of purchasing and implementing the electronic sign-in system and the IBM software. Stibbs added that the system paid for itself in about six weeks in terms of productivity gains and resulting increases in business.
"Getting information throughout the office is one of the most time-consuming and burdensome things that we do because there are just little tidbits of information that need to fly around," she said. Now "that information goes through WebSphere."
While WebSphere turned out to be the right choice for PSC, it may not be the case for all SMBs, according to industry analysts.
Before selecting any software or hardware, analysts suggest SMBs first come up with a clear definition of the business problem or problems they are trying to solve. They said this is the first step toward making a solid purchasing decision.
After clearly defining the business problems, it's time to start looking at what applications can help solve them. The next step, said Laurie McCabe, vice president of SMB insights and business solutions for Access Markets International Partners Inc., a consultancy in New York City, is to discover what underlying technologies will be needed to run those types of applications.
"Nothing is right for everybody," McCabe said. "Start by asking what you need to do for the business. … It should be a top-down decision."