Many chiropractors seem to operate just fine with one, or maybe two, office computers. So when someone tells you it’s time to take a serious look at networking your computer system, you may have some important questions, such as: “Do I really need to network?”; “What about the cost of equipment?”; “Do I need to spend thousands of dollars per computer?”; “What about the networking headaches I hear about?”; and, “What about staying current with the changing technology?”
Let’s examine the answers to these questions. Once you know a little more about the benefits of networking, it’s likely you will stop asking, “Why should I network?” and will start asking, “Why should I wait to network?”
Do I really need to network?
If you see more than 20 patients a week or there’s anyone working in the office besides you, the answer is yes. Why? If you or your employees ever have to move to work on a computer, you are wasting time. Usually you have to make a staff member move to use his or her computer. Look over at that employee while you are working at her station. What is that person doing? Waiting for you to move!
Remember when you were an associate working in your first office? How much space did you have to call your own? Usually not much. Remember how that felt? Remember how much time you wasted just looking for the necessary materials to get your job done? Want to bet your staff members feel the same way? Every employee should have his or her own computer.
If an employee wastes just five minutes of each hour of each day because of a shortage of computers, over the course of a year, that adds up to more than a month of lost work time. That is time that could be better-spent on other activities, like recalls, open invoice calling, or other useful, income-producing functions. Can you afford to give an employee just over one month’s wages for doing nothing? Of course not!
Manufacturing companies have computer workspaces designed so that the amount of movement necessary to perform a task will be reduced to the absolute minimum. Most of those companies have a very small profit margin, yet there is no shortage of computers. Why do you think that almost every employee has a computer? Because the companies like to waste money? No. It’s because knowledge is power, and that equates into time and money.
When you restrict the flow of knowledge in your office, you have reduced the power of each and every employee to contribute to your profit. When you don’t provide ready access to the information employees need to perform their jobs, they have to waste time getting to that information. Every employee who communicates outside the office or sits at a desk needs to have his or her own computer. Every employee who has to move from his or her workspace or leave a computer to perform duties is wasting valuable time.
Think about only having one computer in the office and having one doctor, one insurance person, and one chiropractic assistant. What would happen if a small busload of people came in as new patients while you were trying to check your normal patient flow in and out? Can you see the paperwork lying everywhere? Items that should be entered in the computer wouldn’t be, services and notes would have to be written on paper for later entry, and your smooth office process would go out the window.
Now envision the same scenario with all three staff members working at their individual computers. While the doctor is recording notes at one computer, the insurance person is getting the proper coverage information entered, and the CA is entering the next patient and checking the last one out. Maximize your time and your staff’s time, and don’t limit your capacity by being penny-wise and pound-foolish.
What about the cost of equipment?
If you are worried about the cost of buying more computers, think of the bigger picture. If employees ever have to wait for a computer to become free, or go to another desk to work on a document or report, you are losing employee time and money. The same principle applies to your time. As a doctor, you have paperwork stacking up all the time. If you have a computer at your desk, you instantly become more efficient. You save time and produce more professional results by having access to electronic patient files, insurance records, patient notes, scanned images such as X-rays and MRIs, and other important information.
In the modern, electronic office, the employee has access to the entire computer network and all records are available from every computer. Medical records clerks can print an entire patient chart from one computer onto a high-speed laser printer without going into storage or looking for X-rays in the back room. Take an objective look at how much time that type of office capability could save you.
Do I need to spend thousands of dollars per computer?
You need to spend your money wisely on the most computer you can afford. There are versions of the same type and speed computer that range from just under $1,000 to just over $5,000. The difference is the reliability of the component parts and the operating system, as well as the support you will receive if anything goes wrong. This is where a good hardware consultant comes in. You should look for someone local with verifiable references and credentials who can support you when you have problems.
When you are looking for a good consultant, don’t let price be your greatest concern. Your top priority should be the safety of your data and the reliability of your system, not price. Imagine what would happen if all of your services for the last year simply disappeared. Don’t think that is why you still have ledger cards. The reason you probably still have ledger cards is because you don’t trust your own judgment about the computers in your office. Make sure you have installed a system to back up your data consistently. Frequent backup could save you many sleepless nights later on.
Be sure to invest in a high-quality printer. Why spend thousands of dollars on hardware and then go to a discount store and buy a $200 printer? There are multi-tray, high-quality, high-speed lasers available now that will out-perform any other printer made. Yes, they do cost more initially, but the total cost of ownership is low by comparison, when you figure in the speed of printing and the fact that you only need one.
What about staff training? How many of you have purchased a software program that handles all the office billing and the running of the business, while thinking that you and your staff could learn it all with only one day of training? Think about how long it took you to learn anatomy, or how many lessons it took before you could shoot film. Did you provide your staff with training when you upgraded your office to Windows 98? Everything has its own individual features and quirks, and you had better equip your staff with the tools they need to use all of your software properly and to its fullest. Otherwise, that’s just more money you’ve wasted on untapped time-savers and knowledge available in your software.
What about networking headaches I hear about?
When you have found the right hardware consultant, the headaches you encounter are usually only caused by natural force, not by your computer or your network. Set office policies and procedures for hardware matters and enforce them. Backups must be done on a schedule that fits your practice needs. You should back up the information on your office computer system at least daily, with weekly and monthly duplicates. Discuss this system with your hardware consultant and have the consultant commit to verification and redundancy schedules and figure it into the cost of your support. It will be money well-spent!
Always use high-quality, name-brand hardware for your network installation, and try to stay with one common manufacturer throughout all machines on your network. Hardware conflicts that you or your hardware consultant never dreamed of. So prevent them if you can.
What about staying current with the changing technology?
If you buy the most computer you can afford now, you should always be happy with the results. No consumer can afford to stay current with technology today. It’s changing far too quickly. So don’t worry about it. Buy high-quality hardware now and double all of your software requirements for space and memory, and you should be fine. Again, that is where a good hardware consultant comes in who can intelligently discuss all of your options with you for now and for the future. Don’t short-change yourself now to save money on memory space and end up with useless equipment that won’t serve your needs for basic tasks later on.
Here’s something to think about: Why are hospitals putting an urgent care center on every corner? It’s because they are profitable. Last time I was in one of these centers, I saw that each employee had his or her own computer. There were even computers in the common areas, so passing employees could stop and work without leaving their immediate work areas. I counted 12 computers for 11 employees. Why? These centers know how to make money by providing the necessary tools for everyone who needs them.
Look in your own practice to see where you need to provide the tools. Do your due diligence, and let technology help you work smarter, not harder.