A Necessary Evil: Lessons From Technology Meltdowns

By now many of you are familiar with the catastrophic server failure in our clinic.

I have a clinic with 10 computer clients, all of which work to the max all day long. A business class server runs this entire client system. We also have a terminal services remote dial in, and a sonic wall hard firewall. Pretty much bullet proof (for three years and one week). One week out of warrantee, the server fails.

I have long prided myself on the extensive (early and frequently upgraded) usage of technology in practice. Indeed, it has been a hallmark of success and has allowed maintaining a large practice in these rapidly changing times and escalating data management requirements.

As we are getting back to normal, some very poignant lessons are emerging.

First, we are in really good shape. No patient or clinic data was lost due to redundant back-ups and mirrored hard drives. We did however lose some custom templates and settings. They are probably in a file that was corrupted.

Nonetheless, it has been 40 plus hours of labor, at a MINIMUM 100$/hr, plus additional time with software support at 5$/minute getting things integrated and operational again. So already, we are pushing seven grand in costs, not to mention the time and extra staffing needed to reenter an entire week worth of data from the paper records we managed.

The good news is that I might actually get some reimbursement from my business overhead insurance policy (provision on equipment and media failure). That could take some of the financial bite away.

But, like with so many things life, unexpected side benefits emerged.

 First of all, as a stressful as it was to be stripped of the usual tools my staff rose to the challenge very quickly, and were immediately able to fall back on their redundant but very simple paper systems.

Secondly, both the front part of the office and the back as well realized, how much more enjoyable patient encounters were.  And I believe this is because both areas of the practice we were able to donate 99 percent of the encounter time to simply greeting and interacting with the patients. In the usual day, we probably spend a minimum of twenty percent of encounter time on record keeping.

And don’t you know (of course) without this hassle, our office volume jumped as well.

 Like so many areas of life in this day and age, technology isolates and has stripped us of valuable, humanistic interactive time.  Indeed, is this not where the real joy in practice still comes from?  I dispute anybody who loves the healing arts to say otherwise.

 In any event, once we were back up and running, we realized fully what was happening. So I next redesigned our routine patient encounters, most especially I further simplified routine record keeping, through the redesign of and extensive use of customized but editable templates.

 Last week, when I shared the new designs with my staff, we were both amazed at how (long ago) obvious this all should have been.

 But another extraordinary side benefit of this entire experience was that many patients commented on how our office procedures did not seem to miss a beat. Other than the fact we could not provide precise account balances, the office remained fully functional, productive, and in attendance to the immediate needs of patient care. 

In fact, we were actually able to train a new front desk person in the midst of our technology meltdown. And yes, she did stay on really enjoying our patients, as well as her new teams flexibility.

So, what’s the take away here? Honestly, I recommended if you haven’t spent time recently in practice reviewing what gives you the most joy and satisfaction in the office, that you refocus your attention in that direction.

I’ll also caution you to employ technology as a tool, but never become a slave to it.

As I advocated extensively in my Practice by Design writings and conference, realize that we all have the need, no the obligation to be unplugged from technology, engaging quiet time whenever possible. This means, no computers, no cell phones, no TV, radio or blackberry’s or pagers.

In any event, I hope you will be able to learn from our experiences. In this day and age of private practice, technology is absolutely necessary but does not have to be evil. Like Sarah Connor, be ever vigilant for the rise of the machines!

Make sure you know your software inside and out. Make sure you have support teams that will be available to you when you need them. Make sure there is redundancy in all your systems.

 But lastly, do not become a slave to technology you employ. Figure out better and better ways to employ technology, the help bring you more joy, peace, and prosperity in practice, while never becoming slave to it.

Then perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to unplug from everything, on a regular basis. Get outside, do something physical, read a great book by the oceanside or in the mountains.

I Guarantee, your entire perspective on practice, and life will change immeasurably for the best!

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