IT leaders in multispecialty medical groups face a host of unique opportunities and challenges, including navigating government incentive programs and mandates, balancing standardization and customization, and involving physicians in IT decision making.
Nate McCarthy, a Manager in ECG’s Healthcare IT Division, is currently serving as an interim IT director for a growing multispecialty medical group. Nate and I sat down to discuss some of the trends and challenges associated with his current interim position and the role of IT leaders in medical groups around the country.
M. Oehmichen: What do you see as the top three priorities related to healthcare IT among multispecialty medical groups for the remainder of 2013?
N. McCarthy: The top three priorities for the rest of this year are continued attestation for CMS’s meaningful use (MU), preparing for the 2014 ICD-10 conversion, and – especially for growing multispecialty medical groups – balancing the on-boarding of new practices with the need to continuously foster and promote adoption among existing practices.
M. Oehmichen: Through our work with growing multispecialty medical groups, we’ve seen a lot of discussion around standardization versus customization. How important is that balance and the decision-making process behind it?
N. McCarthy: Operating at the extreme end of either standardization or customization can paralyze a medical group. Providing a moderate level of customization improves physician satisfaction, while general standardization allows groups to manage a sustainable number of support resources, control costs, and take progressive actions in IT instead of simply maintaining existing systems. Involving providers in the decision-making process related to optimizing the EHR and PM system(s) balances those factors and can bring about greater understanding when a request for customization is denied due to technical limitations, as opposed to resource constraints.
M. Oehmichen: How important is physician involvement in IT decision making?
N. McCarthy: Physicians are the lifeblood of any healthcare provider organization, so making important IT decisions related to the systems they use without their involvement is a big mistake. Physician participation increases adoption, and even if a decision is made that they don’t completely agree with, involving physician representatives allows them to appreciate the clinical and business drivers that were considered as well as better understand the general trade-offs involved in IT decision making.
M. Oehmichen: What is the biggest challenge related to managing IT for a multispecialty medical group?
N. McCarthy: There are many challenges, but I see the biggest one as balancing the internal needs of our practices and administration with the significant amount of external requirements related to MU, ICD-10, and other aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Improving usability and implementing enhanced functionality are often lower on the priority list compared to meeting requirements for new government mandates and incentive programs from both public and private payors.
M. Oehmichen: What advice would you give to other administrators of multispecialty medical groups?
N. McCarthy: IT is a tool for providers to take care of patients in a manner that is easier, safer, and more efficient. Medical group administrators should continuously be challenging their IT departments to improve both the IT tools and the processes that support the tools. In the current environment of growing medical groups, it is incumbent upon organizations to ensure the IT and practice components of the group are operating as a team instead of as separate functional areas.