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.
- By Joseph Duffy
- May 01, 2016
What 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
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
- 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
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
“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
“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.