Information Technology

Putting IT in the Field

Mobile technology has a come a long way in a short time, empowering HME providers to make better business decisions and improve patient satisfaction right at the client's doorstep.

HME Mobile TechnologyWhat if you could bring your business to your customers’ doorstep? To keep up with today’s ever-changing business climate and patient care challenges, HME providers are embracing the tools that keep their employees tethered to their business operations no matter where in the world they, their clients, employees or suppliers may be. Access to data that’s within arm’s reach empowers employees to make quick, informed decisions — decisions that can strengthen the bottom-line or improve patient satisfaction.

“Equipping field staff with mobile technology proves beneficial to HMEs as it allows complete visibility into the business, increased operational efficiency, seamless integrations between field staff and the back office and immediate cost reductions,” says Rob Boeye, executive vice president of home medical equipment for software company Brightree LLC. “HME providers who are not utilizing mobile technology are missing out on these benefits, and run the risk of losing out to the competition as other providers deploy mobile in their everyday operations.”

Jay Williams, western national sales manager for retail pharmacy and HME at software company QS/1, says mobile technology is a way to fight against the constantly decreasing reimbursements plaguing the HME industry for years.

“Business must do anything they can to reduce costs of field staff,” he says. “Limiting deliveries to certain areas on certain days and GPS route optimization can significantly reduce miles driven. Same would be says for respiratory therapists. Additionally, GPS tracking of all vehicles can help ensure staff and activities are as efficient as possible. The ability for delivery staff to capture electronic patient signatures on documentation and for credit card copayments would reduce filing and scanning of paperwork at the office, which would help reduce in-office costs.”

Mobile Technology Benefits

David Golen, vice president of business development for Universal Software Solutions Inc., says HME field staff’s use of mobile technology has proliferated with the popularity of cell phones and tablets. The key, he says, is extending the essential patient data residing in providers’ practice management software to these mobile devices to make field staff more efficient while maintaining HIPAA compliance of patient information.

“Mobile technology improves cash flow because you are moving orders to billing faster by improving delivery routing, allowing for real time order changes, and capturing patient signatures electronically,” he says. “Mobile technology improves inventory tracking and helps reduce inventory losses. Mobile technology improves customer service by sharing delivery information real time with CSR staff.”

Embracing mobile technology can help HMEs realize some benefits almost instantaneously, Boeye says. For example, operational cost savings are accomplished when there isn’t a need for paper. He says the cost of the mobile equipment and the applications pale in comparison to the increased productivity, efficiency and reduced paper costs.

But it’s not just about true dollar savings. “Increased efficiencies can be just as valuable,” he says. “Many providers have a difficult time understanding what their field staff is doing at any given time. It’s labor intensive, and cost prohibitive, to track every patient visit, whether the patient was seen, whether an attempt to drop off product was made or where a truck is at any given moment. Using mobile technology and the right applications allows a provider to easily track all of their field staff’s activity.”

Greater customer satisfaction is another key advantage of mobile technology. With the right application, a field employee is able to collect customer signatures, submit documentation and stay in touch with customers at the ready. They’re also able to ensure they have the correct equipment going to the correct patient. All of this cuts down on customer service’s time on the phone with patients who have inquiries about their visits or orders.

Another benefit of mobile technology is transparency, Boeye says. Having visibility into what field employees are doing with their time lets the provider assess how the business is doing and how they could improve. Is there a specific employee that is an issue? Or, is there a bigger situation that needs to be addressed? Having set benchmarks and measuring the plan versus actuals helps paint a picture of how the overall business is performing.

Finally, other mobile technology benefits include HME providers seeing immediate improvements in communication, a decrease in potential data errors, and a decrease in the amount of time it takes to get products and services to the patient and to get that information to the reimbursement department so claims can get dropped immediately, says Darren Young, product manager for CPR+ and CareTend at Mediware Information Systems Inc.

How mobile technology can transform your business

According to Young, “Field staff who are not using mobile technology or don’t have the proper devices are missing out on a wide range of tasks, including immediate updates to deliveries and routes, the ability to capture electronic signatures, the ability to accurately assign serialized equipment to patients using barcode technology, and the ability to modify deliveries based on customer requests, all in real-time and all completely paperless.”

HIs company, CPR+, uses “ruggedized” Motorola devices for delivery drivers that are taking advantage of mobile technology and Internetconnected devices for more clinical driven tasks, such as respiratory therapists conducting an assessment within the patient’s home. He says an off–the-shelf solution can only provide a minimal amount of benefit to field staff, so to truly get the most out of mobile technology, the device must have a way to communicate and integrate with the back-office system.

Williams says field staff with greater efficiency in route management can deliver more items in less time and take a little more time with customers. And while back at the office, with staff not having to enter data captured electronically, they can concentrate on other activities, such as customer service.

In addition to things like checking email or calling customers, leading to a better patient experience, Boeye says field staff can use technology to better manage and capture inventory and forms.

“The right application lets a field employee scan a barcode with their mobile device in order to quickly identify if that particular product is correct,” he says. “If it is, they can move on, if not, capturing this information electronically is a better way to deal with an exception versus a long paper trail. A mobile application empowers a field employee to capture all appropriate documentation and funnel it through a document management system. This gives all appropriate stakeholders visibility into workflows without the manual work.”

Boeye added that technology has evolved so much in the last few years that leveraging existing devices and platforms is a provider’s best bet in terms of cost, implementation and ease of use. Native apps that are compatible with major mobile platforms like Android and iOS let field staff input information wirelessly with or without an Internet connection.

According to Golen, important tasks field staff can do with mobile technology include:

  • Delivery and route optimization for the driver
  • Electronic signature for items delivered needed for payer approvals
  • Capture of electronic documentation, including A.O.B. ABN HIPAA forms
  • Patient education and accreditation documentation provided to the patient
  • Clinical information that is captured in the field
  • Credit Card processing for patient’s financial responsibility

“Implementing mobile technology can significantly decrease a provider’s Days Sales Outstanding (DSO),” Boeye says. “Recently, we’ve heard from a provider whose DSO has gone from 14 days down to two days. The seamless flow of data from the field to the back office eliminates so much manual work and data entry, it’s no wonder providers are experiencing a decrease in DSO of 50% or greater. Providers that use a front-end documentation collection process, like Brightree’s MyForms, have realized a $20 per order savings. In the future, combining mobile tech with a provider’s business management system, documentation collection, and payment collections will result in even greater savings.”

Back Office Integration

As mobile technology has improved the performance and efficiencies of field staff, it’s also made the back office more automated.

“Before mobile technology, field staff would make deliveries, and anything outside of that was a back office issue,” says Boeye. “With mobile technology, there are no questions on what is happening in the field. Documentation and notes are being completed in the application as deliveries are made, so any exceptions have already been noted. As deliveries are completed and signatures are captured, all of these documents should flow seamlessly into a document management system and be available under the patient’s record. This can trigger validation rules to improve the billing process and all other back end processes.”

Boeye says back office staff appreciates this new ‘shared responsibility’ with field staff. Make sure to partner with a technology vendor that allows seamless connectivity and updates and lets the back office rest assured that data going in via a mobile device will end up on the back office side.

From a back office integration perspective, empowering field staff with mobile technology means that many hours can be saved by no longer having to decipher handwritten comments on paper tickets, trying to track down lost paper tickets and having to manually confirm tickets once they’ve been brought back to the office, says Young. From a more clinical perspective, being able to perform questionnaires and assessments electronically in the field means no longer having to scan in paper forms or waiting for staff to come into the office.

Williams pointed out that giving delivery staff the capability of capturing payments in the field at the patient’s front door will save time processing cards for the back office personnel.

The Future of IT in the Field

As second-party hardware (mobile phones, tablets and laptops) get smaller, faster and less costly, HME provider mobile solutions should also improve and expand.

“The abilities of mobile tablets and smartphones will continue to improve and expand,” says Williams. “If Amazon’s use of drones to deliver packages succeeds, then it might be possible for HME businesses to either offer the same services or use a third party that can deliver smaller items to a patient’s front door via a drone.”

In the near future, Boeye says we should see increased interconnectivity among technology vendors’ ecosystems.

“There will be greater integration between business management systems, document collection and payment collections,” he says. “A seamless, paperless flow of data creates greater efficiencies and decreases customer touch points. This threefold approach is where providers will see the most benefit, operationally and financially.”

Following that, Boeye predicted a decrease in the scanning of serial numbers and barcodes to facilitate inventory management, and an increase in the use of RFID technology on high-value equipment.

“Historically, RFID technology was too costly, but over time we’re seeing that cost dropping, becoming more accessible,” he says. “RFID tagged equipment helps a provider understand what inventory they have on hand and be able to more quickly account for, and track, the inflow and outflow of equipment at each branch location.”

Young pointed out that some HME providers are providing services to rural areas that still don’t have reliable mobile service. Each year, cell phone service continues to expand, which will allow more HME providers to adopt mobile technology that can be used for all of their patients instead of constantly having to make exceptions.

“In the future, we expect to see more data and tasks that are currently being done in the back office to be opened up to mobile devices so that any process can be performed from anywhere in the world in real-time,” he says.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of HME Business.

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