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    Using single vendor for IT needs has benefits, drawbacks

    New federal laws and regulations in recent years—ranging from penalties for not using electronic health records to new requirements for safeguarding patient information under updates to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act—have many medical practices are taking a closer look at their technology requirements. Physicians and their practice managers are starting to see that complying with these laws and mandates will require a greater use of information technology (IT) and are exploring the pros and cons of using a single vendor versus multiple vendors for their IT needs.

    PROS

    What are the benefits of using a single, core vendor?

    • One point of contact. To start with, you have only one point of contact for all your IT needs. You don’t have to partially troubleshoot a problem to decide which vendor to call or mediate between vendors if the practice management software vendor says the Internet service provider is causing the problem.
    • More resources. Core IT vendors usually have a larger staff to pull into large projects as well as access to all the equipment and software required to fully troubleshoot and solve any problems you may experience.

    CONS

    What are the cons?

    • Expense. Larger vendors will have more overhead than smaller, niche vendors and can be more expensive. So although the vendor may only assign one technician and the help desk to your account full-time, the costs of all its other technicians, sales staff, and office staff will factor into the pricing of its services. 
    • Potential delays. Core vendors may try to solve all your problems in-house, delaying escalation to equipment and software vendors until they’ve exhausted everything they can think of. Although they are less likely to encounter a problem requiring vendor intervention than is a smaller, niche vendor, delays in seeking additional support could affect your practice. 

    WHAT TO LOOK FOR

    Base your decision on a provider on three factors:

    • Experience. An experienced IT vendor will have standard policies for dealing with equipment failures and Internet outages. It should be able to monitor your equipment and software around the clock for signs of impending problems and undertake proactive maintenance to help prevent failures. It should have the capability to monitor and routinely test your data backups to ensure that your data are protected, possibly including some form of off-site archival.
    • Connections. Check client references for your potential new IT vendor. Ask them about the problem that has taken the longest to resolve and about any surprises they may have encountered after signing with the vendor. Ask how long they have been a client and what vendor staff turnover has been like. Good IT service companies pride themselves on attracting and keeping good talent.
    • Leadership. Ask your potential IT vendor about the company’s approach to customer service. Look for a company that acts more like a partner and finds creative ways to meet your technology needs.

    Hiring a single IT vendor to address your hardware, software, and networking needs can seem expensive, but doing so may be more economical for your practice in the long run. Having one number to call to solve a technology problem can get you back in action quicker because you can avoid vendor squabbles. Look for a vendor that can meet your needs, matches your service philosophy, and wants to support your business so that you can spend more time caring for your patients.


    The author is IT manager for SS&G Healthcare Services in Akron, Ohio.

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