Hiring an IT Consultant

Finding and Vetting an IT Consultant. Can I Trust the Guy Down the Street?

Hiring an IT consultant requires a different approach compared to the hiring of a full or part-time employee. An IT consultant is generally brought in to complete a specific task in an area in which he/she has domain expertise. They are generally expensive resources and as a result it is important to find the right person for the job at hand. Medical practices have certain unique requirements from a workflow and patient privacy perspective and your IT consultant should also have a basic understanding of medical privacy rules and practice operations. In addition, to extract the maximum value, you should clearly define your expectations up front to ensure that the work is completed satisfactorily and according to plan.

The following tips are provided for your reference:

  • Do you need an IT consultant to support your hardware and computer network in your practice on an ongoing basis or do you intend to hire someone to assist your practice through the entire EHR selection and implementation process? In these two settings, your needs will be very different.
    • Pure technical support skills and services will be more widely available either locally through a small independent contractor or through a larger IT support company. These individuals know how to maintain hardware and networks and ensure that backups are done correctly in addition to replacing hardware components such as hard drives before they fail. Think of them as your preventive maintenance support. Technical consultants are also able to recommend new hardware (computers, printers, scanners, wireless routers) when these pieces of hardware need replacement as they work with technology and get to know the best and most cost-effective products.
    • Full service consultants are individuals who have the skills and knowledge to conduct a full assessment of your practice (clinical and administrative needs) and lead the selection, product evaluation, implementation and early support when the product is implemented. In busy practices, the task of evaluation is frequently delegated to a staff member (medical office assistant or practice manager) and the full service consultant essentially takes over these roles on behalf of the practice. From a practical standpoint, hiring this type of individual may only cost-effective in a large practice (20+ physicians) in which there is a complexity and specific requirements that may be difficult to meet. Smaller practices should carefully evaluate the costs of this type of employment contract as the time frames to select and implement EHRs are generally long (6 months+) and this could be an expensive proposition in addition to duplicating some of the support services that are available through the Regional Extension Center (REC) in your state. For a list of RECs, click here.
  • The most common scenario is one in which a practice will need an IT consultant to support the office network, computers and related hardware. How can you identify a trustworthy company or individuals to provide this kind of support service?
    • First, expect to spend some money for support on a regular basis. Having a consultant available only during a crisis does not make good business sense for either a consultant or for your practice. If your hardware gets to the point that it is riddled with viruses and hard drives are reaching the end of their lifespan, this is not a good time to call for help.
    • If you have a good network of colleagues in your local area, find out who have they used as an IT consultant and more about their experiences? Quality of support, availability both on-site and by phone, cost of call outs as well as ongoing maintenance. Is the agreement for a certain number of hours per month or per quarter or do they have a fixed maintenance contract in which the consultant is paid a monthly fee to maintain the office hardware and network and is expected to do so on a regular basis?
    • Check references carefully. Do not miss this important step and ensure that when you speak with references, you find out whether they individual concerned has a good understanding of HIPAA and workflow requirements in a medical practice setting. A specific understanding of your specialty is equally important as the consultant may have assisted primary care practices with EHR selection and implementation, however has not had much experience with your sub-specialty which may have different requirements in terms of workflow and operations. Do not forget to ask the most important question, “Given the choice, would you hire this contractor again?”
    • If you are working with a Regional Extension Center, your designated contact may be able to provide guidance regarding consultants in your geographic area or may be able to provide a list of recommended consultants who have previously been vetted.
    • A ‘Google search’ for EHR consultant in your geographic area is likely to present many options, but you should be extra diligent when it comes to hiring someone who will essentially be a member of your practice team for the duration of your EHR selection and implementation process.
    • If hiring a large company to provide you with a consultant, do not sign the contract until you have met and are comfortable with the individual who has been designated to your practice. It is much easier to have these adjustments made in advance of signing an agreement vs. after working with the consultant for some time and only then identifying a problem.

Have you had experience with IT consultants? Do you have suggestions for colleagues? Add your thoughts.


3 responses to "Finding and Vetting an IT Consultant. Can I Trust the Guy Down the Street?"
  • May 16, 2012
    Sami Cortas

    A good consultant is one who can foresee your future needs and expansion and not focus on the problem at hand. Suppose you want to find a solution for your labs by installing an LIS. Your consultant should foresee that the LIS may at a later point need to interface with a hospital wide Order Entry System other than the order entry application that came with the LIS, so that doctors would not need to use multiple screens to place an order. One for lab, one for radiology, one for pharmacy later.
    Also your consultant should look beyond the current problem and try to incorporate a solution that can benefit or automate other areas of operation.Example building an OR scheduling system should also automate ordering of supplies by including an interface to the stores or purchasing software so that the required supplies are not printed out then re-entered on the supply system.
    A good consultant should have a broader vision and should provided added value beyond the immediate probelm he/she is called to address.

  • May 26, 2012
    Morris Stemp

    In our experience, we have found that most medical practices do not budget for IT services or life cycle replacement/upgrades of equipment. While this practice may have been tolerable before the EHR was installed, once a practice goes live, they will quickly learn that that any systems downtime can have a significant impact on productivity and patient care.

    Another attribute to look for when vetting your consultants is their hours of operation. Since they cannot work during office hours (Usually 7am to 7pm or longer), they can only do preventive maintenance during evening hours and weekends. A good support organization should have dedicated staff working weekends and overnight to provide this service as well and to be available for technical support should a provider need help accessing their systems from home. Before signing any contract, check if there is additional cost for this after hours service.

  • September 24, 2015

    I have several issues with EHR. I guess my first question to anyone who reads this is why has all of the implementation cost/and responsibilities been thrown on the individual physicians? It’s eventually going to be a mandated government/insurance carrier issue. Again, why aren’t physicians asking this basic question, when the tool itself will be used to decrease physician reimbursement in the long run? Who are our advocacy people? As a cognitive neurologist in solo practice, EHR currently is expensive and quite honestly beyond my skill set from an IT stand point. So why is this my solo responsibility?

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