Medical Practices Simply Can’t Afford To Skimp On IT Infrastructure

1964, Dynamic control problem being studied in the Analogue Computer Laboratory

Analogue Computer Laboratory – 1964. Source.

The Earth orbits the Sun, and medical practices can’t afford to skimp on IT infrastructure… some facts are simply immutable.

Normally I would proclaim that any business can’t afford to skimp on its IT infrastructure, but given the current climate where just having a Windows XP machine connected to your network is a HIPAA violation, I’ve clearly got a certain target audience in mind for this post. That said, it’s not just medical practices that could benefit from taking a few minutes to read this post.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past months advising (and implementing) practices on how to make the move from the no longer supported Windows XP to Windows 7 and newer operating systems, and one thing has become readily apparent to me – there are two kinds of medical practices:

  • Practices that see technology as part of the patient experience.
  • Practices that only think about IT when it breaks.

The medical practices (and other businesses) that realize that their IT infrastructure is part of the patient (customer) experience tend to have made the realization that IT in a medical office is not just there to scan ID cards, print receipts or create patient forms, but actually adds substantially to the patient experience and bottom line of the practice.

Happy patients = more money!

That’s not a difficult concept right? I think everyone can agree that if a patient has a positive experience at your office they’re more likely to come back the next time something ails them. They’re also far more likely to recommend you to other potential patients (word of mouth marketing), leave positive reviews on rating sites, etc… Happy patients = more money for you. Simple!

A lot of medical practitioners and office managers appear to forget that the patient’s experience in their clinic is not just measured by the patient – doctor interaction, it comes from the everything they experience at your office. From the moment they walk in the door, from that first impression, the friendliness of the staff, the promptness of their appointment, the ease of filling out information – it’s all being judged by the patient and it ALL impacts your bottom line.

So, how does IT actually affect any of this? Well, let’s forget about silly little things such as multi-thousand dollar fines (per patient) when data is exposed due to poor infrastructure and / or running out of date operating systems and look at the ways that keeping your computers and software up-to-date actually affects your bottom line.

Faster computers (and modern operating systems) increase staff productivity.

It’s not just just the ability to run better, newer software, but multiply the 10 minutes it takes those ancient computers to start up by the number of staff you have and there’s a massive amount of wasted productivity hours. A lot of time is wasted every day because applications take forever to open / switch between, and all of that wasted time is time that you are paying staff for. If  you want to get more productivity from  your staff then give them the tools to do it.

Faster computers equal happier staff.

In my experience, there’s little that will annoy good staff in a good office faster than slow computers. It’s frustrating to have to not be able to move on to the next thing, especially when you have a patient standing there waiting for that document you sent to the printer 5 minutes ago.

If there’s one thing patients are especially good at picking up on, it’s the atmosphere in an office. When staff aren’t happy, you can be sure that patients aren’t, and that is going to have negative impact on their experience and willingness to return in the future or recommend  you to other potential patients.

Faster computers equal happier patients.

When you’re sick, tired or in pain, the last thing you want to do is stand around twiddling your thumbs for five minutes at the check in desk at your doctors office waiting for their EMR (electronic medical record) system to pull up your details. That should have happened almost instantaneously, and it would have if the aging computer had more RAM, a faster CPU or better connectivity to the server.

Get those patients checked in and out faster for a better patient experience and a less crowded waiting room.

Keeping your infrastructure up-to-date saves you money.

All computers break down, have issues and occasionally need repairs, but performing support tasks on older computers takes longer. Slower machines take longer to install drivers on, track down issues etc. It’s not rocket science.

As your infrastructure ages there tends to be more issues which require support and the cost of that support can escalate rather quickly. You might only see it as a $100 here, $200 there, but when this is happening every other week (even when you have contracted support agreements) it can quickly get to the point where you could have actually paid to replace aging equipment and had LESS support call-outs.

Upgrading / Staying up-to-date doesn’t have to be a huge expense.

A lot of small practices get sticker shock at the notion of spending many thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of dollars to replace equipment that still essentially works. Most don’t realize that these upgrades don’t all have to be done at once. Unfortunately a lot of vendors won’t tell you that, instead going for the big “all in one” sell – but that’s another blog post.

Implement a rolling upgrade policy. Start with the oldest computer (or computers depending on how desperate the situation) on your network and get them upgraded – whether than means adding more RAM, SSD’s or a better CPU or simply replacing the whole machine. If you have a server, see if that needs upgrading too. In 6 months time upgrade another machine or two and continue to do so over the next two years. By the end of the two years you’ll have completed 5 upgrades (0 months, 6 months, 12, 18, 24) and have replaced or upgraded 10 machines without any one major expense.

Most small medical practices will have somewhere in the region of 10 – 20 machines, but you can adjust the plan to suit your infrastructure needs and budget accordingly.

On month 30, start the cycle again – upgrading the components of or replacing the machines first updated at month 0. Repeat the cycle over and over again and you’ll never have machines more than 2 – 3 years old running on your network.

You may also wish to annually evaluate your networking equipment and see if any performance gains can be made by upgrading aging switches / firewalls / routers to newer faster standards.

Remember that it’s not just your hardware.

Aging software can be a productivity drain almost as much as aging hardware. Be sure to evaluate new versions of the tools and software you use in your practice and determine if making the move to newer versions could increase productivity or will add features that improve security etc..

Speaking of security… Don’t forget those updates…

Again I’m going to gloss over the potential fines that medical practices and businesses can be slapped with if patient / customer information is compromised, and instead remind you of the cost of having someone come out to clean your network of trojans, spyware and malware. Good anti-virus and anti-spyware software is always a must, but none of it is perfect. No matter your operating system – Windows, OS X, Linux… make sure that you are installing updates regularly. These updates don’t just add new features to your system- they fix bugs, can increase stability and performance, and fix security holes and issues.

If your IT person (you do have an IT person, right?) recommends that you turn off Windows updates for performance, or because things “might break” then you need to fire them. The days of such things happening are long, long in the past, and the rare times that they do occur are far lest costly than the potential damage than can be caused by not running them.

While you’re at it, have your IT person or vendor upgrade the firmware on you routers / managed switches / firewalls etc….

It doesn’t cost a lot to be secure AND productive…

For most practices, if you put your IT infrastructure on a rolling upgrade cycle the cost becomes pretty negligible plus you get to avoid the major sticker shock of a one time upgrade.

If you start thinking about your IT as part of the patient (and staff) experience the outlay will more than recoup itself in increased productivity, repeat patients and positive word of mouth marketing.

GALLUP – Americans Say Social Media Has Little Sway on Purchases

Oh oh! It’s time to go back to traditional media advertising! Right, right?

Gallup surveyed more than 18,000 American adults in December 2012 and January 2013 for the poll you see below.

A clear majority of Americans say social media have no effect at all on their purchasing decisions. Although many companies run aggressive marketing campaigns on social media, 62% in the U.S. say Facebook and Twitter, among other sites, do not have any influence on their decisions to purchase products.

Influence of Social Media On Americans Purchasing Decisions

Or maybe, just maybe, a large percentage of those who say that social media has “no influence at all” don’t realize when they’re being influenced by their friends and family.

We know that the actual ads aren’t working all that well, that’s no secret.

Facebook users hate the ads, we use scripts and blockers to remove them. Most of us – a whopping 94% – use social media primarily to connect with friends and family. We don’t want your stinking ads, we want to know how Grannies hemorrhoid surgery went and if the doctors will let her take one home in a jar. Oh, and pics or it didn’t happen!

Was that $5.1 Billion spent on social media advertising in 2013 wasted? Well, not ALL of it was wasted. Those brands and companies that were telling stories and creating content that people wanted to engage with and talk about – they most definitely were not wasting their money.

Those brands hammering out the same old drone of “buy this, buy this”…. Yeah, they were wasting their money.

WOM (word of mouth) is and always will be the most trusted medium that makes or breaks a brand, and the beauty of it is that most of the time people don’t realize they’re being marketed to or acting as an evangelist.

Those jeans your friend was raving about at work, and  you bought two pairs of! How do you think she found out about them in the first place? Someone else was raving about them on her Facebook stream.

U.S. companies spent a combined $5.1 billion on social media advertising in 2013, and they obviously believe that this presents them with a return on investment. However, a solid majority of American adults say that social media have no influence at all on their purchasing decisions — suggesting that the advertising may be reaching smaller segments of the market, or that the influence on consumers is indirect or goes unnoticed.

In the State of the American Consumer report, Gallup reveals that consumers who engage with brands often do so when they are already attached to a product or service. Companies that engage their customers — by providing exceptional service and a pleasurable in-store experience — will, in turn, drive those customers to interact with them on social media. Simply promoting products and services on Facebook or Twitter is unlikely to lead to sales.

The key to reaching new customers and growing your brand via social media – give people something to talk about.

Spend wisely!

Dildos Bring A Hilarious Twist To This Gun Safety PSA

One of the things drilled into me during military training was that battles are rarely won by a head on-confrontation, and even if you have the numbers to force and overwhelming win, the loses accumulated by direct confrontation are not worth it. It’s better to attack from an unexpected direction – to think out of the box.

I wish a lot of marketers understood that.

The folks at Evolve understand, and that is what makes this gun safety PSA so awesome. This video is worth 30 seconds of you time irrespective of your stance on gun safety / ownership.

Hat-tip: Gawker.

Buy My Volvo – This Is How An Art Director Sells A Car

Fancy turning crank with a built-in safety bladder. Pelvis straps and an oblong chrome nipple! How could I resist?

If I were living in Malmö I might just consider parting with the 7000 Kronor ($1064) for this old Volvo with 5 previous owners.

Well done Castor. Advertising agencies and used-car salesmen need to take note!

Hat-tip: Mashable.

“Generic Brand” Advertisement for Stock Footage Site Dissolve is Sad Testimony to the State of Branding

It’s a sad state of affairs when an advert for a stock footage site, made entirely from stock footage, is better than 90% of the corporate branding videos I’ve ever seen and could probably be applied to 99% of corporations out there.

I don’t know if the folks at Dissolve set out to make an “anti-ad”, or were simply having fun showcasing what they could do with the stock footage available on their site, but the have managed to highlight some of the problems with corporate branding – it’s generic. Very, very generic.

You can lay the blame at the foot of execs who want to get a message across – the same message as every other company. Or you can blame the agencies who don’t push companies to break the generic mold, or are simply happy encouraging their clients and churning out “brand” after cookie cutter “brand” because it’s easier, cheaper, safer etc…

Whoever you care to blame, it’s clear that brands aren’t being developed in most cases (unless “we’re the same as everyone else” is a brand) and this “anti-ad”/demo is a shining example of why it’s not happening.

Lets be honest, you really shouldn’t be using stock footage in your brand video. Stock footage is not you, your company or who you want to be. Nobody can show that better than, well, you…

An Exercise In How Not To Sell Online Advertising Space

Angry Paul O'Flaherty

This was my “happy face” after the call.

If you sell anything, especially in the online advertising space, read the following and learn from it. Never make the mistakes this girl made, not even once!

A few weeks ago I had a woman representing a local TV news station call trying to sell my client advertising on their website. When I used the word “sell” in the previous sentence, what I actually meant was “shove it down my throat and force me to make an immediate decision on”. It was like being ear-raped by an angry woodpecker that keeps pecking the word “buy” until your inner ear explodes.

Lets get a few things straight here:

I am not going to part with many thousands of my clients’ dollars simply because you call and tell me that if I don’t buy it now it will be gone by the end of the day.

Telling me that you serve 2 million impressions a month, and then slipping in at the end of the pitch that our advert would be one of 7 rotating in the spot, does not a good pitch make. Pitching 2 million and delivering 285K impressions is not that impressive. It’s like waving a 4 inch wiener around at an orgy organized by John Holmes.

Those 285K impressions become even less impressive  when you consider that the space your pimping is only on the front page of the site. I don’t care how many impressions your site serves if the advert is only running on the front page. How many impressions does THAT page get? You know, the one where the advertising will actually appear! Oh, you can’t answer? How predictable!

Impressions mean nothing without context! I want to know, at the very least, the number of unique visitors and the geographic distribution of those visitors. But again, you can’t answer that. How freaking hard is it to say – “the page we want you to advertise on gets X number of unique visitors a month with 90% of those being in our target geographic area”?

I want to know if 50% of those “impressions” are actually being generated by one over-enthusiastic, pantsless fanboy sitting in his mother’s basement in Nebraska. Such information defines the value proposition of the potential advertising space. Don’t even get me started on demographics of the unique visitors from our target area.  How hard is this information to get? Here’s an answer for you – it’s not.

When I ask you to email me the information, because I’ll have an answer for you quicker that way (because you know, I’ve got absolutely nothing better to do than sit here and listen to your sales pitch over and over – which consists mostly of you talking over me until you get your way), and you tell me that you only send your email out at the end of the day (are you serious?) and you MIGHT send me one if the spaces aren’t taken!?!

Honestly, it would have been more polite to just tell me to “piss off” while we were on the phone – your armchair reverse-psychology isn’t going to work on anybody with an IQ above that of a glass of water.

There is no excuse for this level of incompetence when selling business-to-business.

There is no excuse for this level of incompetence and pushy arrogance, period.

Slacktivisim, Amirite?

My stance on most forms of online activism is well known. It’s the type of selfish ego-masturbation that allows us to feel momentarily good about ourselves while achieving next to nothing. 99.9% of the time it makes us feel good, and that’s where it stops.

A million likes on Facebook may sound awesome, but the truth is, that unless there’s a PR angle to it or the stars align – for every “1 million likes to save this puppy” campaign that succeeds in part due to online activism, there are probably a million “save the puppy” campaigns that fail.

Damn, that’s a lot of dead puppies! See what you’re responsible for Zuckerberg? Duping people into thinking they can save puppies by clicking “like” buttons… You monster! Anyway, I digress…

The truth that most people overlook, fail to grasp, don’t know about or just plain willfully ignore (I’m looking at you internet marketing zealots), is that a successful campaign needs both online an offline, and when push comes to shove, getting things done comes down to people actually making phone calls, hitting the street with their feet, donating money and time and ACTUALLY DOING THINGS.

Give me 10 people willing to donate an hour a week over a million Facebook “likes” any day!

Awareness doesn’t save a puppy. Awareness doesn’t stop your neighbor from beating the crap out of his wife and children when he gets drunk. Sure I might be aware that he’s kicking her ass, but what good does that do her if all I do is click a “like” button and then chuckle heartily at a video of a cat showing a dog which feline wears the cojones?

People taking action, donating time, money or just making the right phone call – That’s what creates change – taking action.

Also, if you need the last thread pulled for you – when you start taking meaningful action, that action will build awareness, and give you something that you can actually talk about. Then you can get on Facebook and Twitter and tell everyone to get out there and take action.

Facebook Activisim

Image credit?

DUPÉ – Popup Store Sells Bottled Fresh Air, Boxed Sunshine And Good Vibrations

I love this – even the name “DUPÉ” is double loaded (try saying it loud and slow).

YVW came up with a very interesting popupstore concept in Australia to make people think about buying natural resources bottled.

Do you buy bottled water? I know we always have crates of it in the house for hurricane season, but never buy it for regular consumption.

What other products do you pay ridiculously high prices for simply because they’re conveniently bottled up or packaged?

Source: ExMaBlog

Awesome Resignation Video Shows Why Clear Story And Quality Rule Over Quantity

I work for an awesome company that makes news videos. I have put my entire life into this job, but my boss only cares about quantity, how fast we write and how many views each video gets.

I believe it’s more important to focus on the quality of the content. When you learn to improve this, the views will come. Here is a little video I made explaining my feelings.

With 450,000 views in less than two days (at the time of writing), it’s fair to say that Marina V. Shifrin has made her point.