5 ways to manage the cost of health IT

Managing costs in today's industry has been put front and center. And although incentive funds have been helping organizations to implement health IT, easy tweaks and innovative tips are always welcome to help cut corners. 

Industry experts give use five simple ways to help manage the cost of health IT. 

1. Think practically. According to Dave Williams, co-founder and principal of healthcare consulting firm MedPharma Partners, consider deploying overlay systems to extend the life of existing systems. An added bonus? This will also help organizations realize extended value from these systems. "Use the opportunity to prioritize the budget according to value generated," he added. "Consider outsourcing more functionality." Although there are ways for departments to prioritize according to need and costs, Williams said a different approach could make all the difference. "A nuanced approach with outside assistance is needed to generate meaningful results," he said. 

2. Look for creative solutions. Despite the risks and perceived loss of control, it can be worth it to embrace the "bring your own device" phenomenon, said Williams. "(This allows) doctors and nurses to employ their own smart phones and tablets on the job and foster development of institution-specific apps by users," he said. "Point of care decision tools are relatively inexpensive but contribute greatly to patient care and employee satisfaction." Lastly, Williams looked to basic tools for a thrifty way to manage costs. "Leverage inexpensive cloud services, such as Google Apps," he said. 

[See also: IT foundation urges Congress to invest in healthcare to create jobs.]

3. Don't underestimate the cost savings associated with training. It's essential to consider training and to not skimp on putting the time in to educate staff on new products, said Williams. "…Consider the need for training when making an investment decision," he said. "As Apple has shown in the consumer and business world, systems that are more intuitive require less end-user training and result in higher productivity and user satisfaction." Training is particularly important, he continued, when it comes to new IT and protecting PHI. According to Williams, technology to protect personal health information "ranks pretty high, but management processes and training are at least as important as the technology." 

4. Think enterprise-directed IT. Lisa Suennan, managing member at Psilos Group and author of the blog Venture Valkyrie, argues the most cost-effective IT to invest in is enterprise-directed as opposed to consumer-directed IT. "Most of the technology that's interesting and cost-effective right now, although it may be different five years from now, isn't consumer directed—it's much more enterprise directed," she said.  Although consumer-directed IT, like those focused on wellness and mobile technologies, may be popular and in-demand, it's important to think ahead and not give into fads. "While they're [helpful] technologies, a vast majority of them aren't cost efficient," she said. 

[See also: IT critical to fighting hospital-acquired infections, reducing costs, says GAO.]

5. Consider investments and their cost savings in the long run. With a myriad of technologies popping up left and right, streamlining investments is key. And it may come as no surprise that, like Williams, Suennan maintains investments that protect against data breaches are some of the most important to be considered. A report released by ID Experts and Ponemon Institute found data breaches in U.S. healthcare organizations have cost providers more than $6 billion a year—an incredible cost that can be diffused with the help of training and smart investments. Some practical ways to protect against costly breaches? Encryption, said Mahmood Sher-Jan, vice president of product management at ID Experts. “An incident may not become a breach if it’s encrypted properly." 

Follow Michelle McNickle on Twitter, @Michelle_writes