April 1997 Bulletin

Hand-held computer may be survival tool

by Ian J. Alexander, MD

Ian J. Alexander, MD, is a practicing orthopaedic surgeon at Orthopaedic Surgeons, Inc., Crystal Clinic, Akron, Ohio.

Should orthopaedic offices computerize documentation? Should nomads drink water in the Sahara? The answer to both is: If they want to survive, they will.

In the face of economic changes brought on by managed care and the potential financial effects of a manpower surplus, survival of orthopaedic groups in the coming years will depend on how well they are run as businesses. Re-engineering the orthopaedic practice will involve lowering overhead by maximizing productivity, tracking costs and monitoring quality of care. That's pretty much "motherhood and apple pie," but fail to act, and someone will eat that proverbial pie from right under your nose.

So what is re-engineering all about? The answer involves establishing a mission, then determining how to best accomplish set objectives. Technology is only useful if it helps a practice meet its goals. In the information age, evaluating whether objectives are being met depends on collecting data in a structured format and analyzing the data, assessing costs and patient satisfaction and outcome.
The final, and most important part of the "re-engineering process" is having the courage to make the necessary changes, based on that input, to maintain long-term viability.

If gathering data is key, how is this best accomplished? Many different technological solutions will offer opportunities to collect structured data and streamline work. My personal bias is that small, lightweight, high-speed, hand-held computing devices will be the cornerstone of the medical office information management systems of tomorrow. Ultimately, features of these systems will include:

Orthopaedic practices with vision and a well-defined plan, will realize that computerized documentation is not a luxury, but a basic survival tool.

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