Economic concerns might be stalling technology projects in some addiction treatment organizations, but the CEO of a leading behavioral health software company believes that agencies thinking strategically will pursue technological advances more enthusiastically than ever in the coming months.
“What I've heard of late at these agencies is there is an increase in the number of people seeking services, but funding is being limited,” says Ravi Ganesan, president and CEO of Pennsylvania-based Core Solutions, Inc. “Leaders in these agencies are saying, ‘The only way I can see to serve more people is to improve our efficiency.’”
Asked to discuss the outlook for technology in the addiction treatment industry in the new year, Ganesan says he believes many treatment centers will continue to take a big-picture, long-term view of technological upgrades-a trend that he says has surfaced in the past couple of years.
“A year or two ago companies were primarily looking at [automating] billing and operations,” Ganesan says. “Now they're looking at the entire enterprise. There's a lot of focus now on comprehensive electronic health records, not just automating small parts of the business.”
While Ganesan acknowledges that he knows some facility leaders who because of concerns over the economy have put new projects on hold for the time being, he believes others will see enhancements to technology as a crucial element in economic recovery. “If these improvements are of a strategic nature, this is absolutely the best time to do it,” he says. “There is a greater need now,” and agencies can ill afford to lose 4 to 10% of their overall revenues because of inefficiencies in billing processes, for example.
Also, Ganesan believes treatment organizations might find attractive job candidates in the IT field in this relatively unstable labor market. “It is a good time to hire IT people,” he says.
In many of his talks to behavioral health leaders, the Core Solutions CEO emphasizes organizations' need to conduct a thorough technology inventory, seeking to grasp both the capacity of their current technology and the skills of each staff member. Ganesan believes that an inventory that includes a list of all software programs used in the organization (with their purpose) and a list of all staff members with IT skills constitutes a key task in agencies' planning.
Such an effort requires above all else a commitment from top management toward prioritizing IT-related goals, Ganesan says.
He believes he has seen more prominent signs of this commitment among addiction treatment leaders in recent years. This has resulted in the establishment of a stronger link at the agency level between technology and overall organizational goals, he says.
This effort should lead many organizations toward the decision to hire a chief information officer, Ganesan believes. “If you're a $10 million to $15 million organization, you need to have a CIO,” he declares. “The only way these organizations can meet the demand they're encountering is through achieving internal efficiencies.”
Ganesan says that smaller organizations that might not be able to justify hiring an experienced CIO should at least designate a “sponsor” within the organization who can work to make technology a priority in the executive offices.
Each organization is somewhat different in terms of the factors that drive it toward technological improvements, but Ganesan believes that the awareness of other agencies' success stories has helped make the case for technology's value to the bottom line. “You're going to see an increase in charge capture through this,” he says. In inefficient paper-based systems, losses often can remain hidden from managers' view for some time, he adds.
Need to educate
Even in organizations that have the will to look at technology comprehensively, the capacity to conduct an organization-wide assessment is often lacking, Ganesan says. Each organization will have a somewhat different road map to improvement, and some have even found that they have had to help staff members with the most basic word processing skills in order to achieve the results they're seeking, he says.
One of the most formidable obstacles in any organization remains resistance to change. Ganesan often closes his conference presentations with a quote attributed to Machiavelli: “There is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old system and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new one.” Yet it is becoming increasingly clear in many treatment organizations that maintaining the status quo is no longer benefiting anyone, and agencies need to adopt stronger business principles.
Core Solutions' products for behavioral health agencies include Care Enterprise, a comprehensive assessment software package that includes an inventory of online forms and an electronic chart for review of clinical information.