A Career in Healthcare Management – The 5 Information Technology Skillsets You Need to Succeed

Information Technology knowledge and skills are no longer optional for healthcare managers. Aspiring managers and managers currently working in the field should learn as much as possible about the following five areas. Your work life and the life of your practice will depend on it!

Skill 1: Email Etiquette and Management

Email can rule your work life if you don’t make good choices with your messages. Managers need to know how to use the Rules Tool (Outlook) to automatically move messages into folders, and how to turn emails into Tasks and Appointments. Work communication can succeed or fail if you don’t have the basics under your command. Knowing how to archive your email will not only save you time when looking for important information, but will save you from the frustration of searching through hundreds of emails. Here are the basics of email management:

  1. Most organizational experts recommend looking at your email twice a day, and turning off the setting that notifies you immediately when you have new email. Email can be very addictive, and can suck your time away from projects and other work.
  2. Just like paper, try to only touch an email once. Once you read the email, decide whether to delete it, answer/forward it and delete it, or do something else with it like dragging it to the task list or calendar. Don’t get caught in the ugly cycle of reading it once, and going on to the next email without doing anything about it. If you do that, you’ll end up with lots of emails that you have to read again…and maybe a third time.
  3. Never, never put anything critical (of a criticizing nature) in an email. If you need to have that type of conversation with a colleague, pick up the phone. A critique to an employee is best done in person, with a follow-up email for the file.
  4. Always check your outgoing email for tone. The best tone for business email is professional. This means a greeting, a message, a “thank you” and footer with your full name, title, and contact information. Some organizations are more formal, and some are less formal, but I would err on the side of being more professional. You can always set your email signature to include the greeting and thank you and your name, so all you have to do is complete the middle.
  5. For emails that do need to be saved for reference, make subfolders under your Inbox to place reference email. Even better, copy the email to a Word document, and delete the email.
  6. Have high priority (your boss or bosses) and low priority (listservs, subscriptions) email automatically come into their own folders. The low priority email can wait and the high priority email can be dealt with first.
  7. Beware of group emails with jokes, homespun wisdom, clever tests and unbelievable pictures as they are a waste of your time. If you need a break from work, go for a walk, but get rid of the group emails. They take personal and server email space and can border on or be outright offensive, causing a problem if you don’t nip it in the bud. Remember that email is legally discoverable.
  8. Be careful about answering emails off the top of your head, possibly when you’re angry, or rushed. If you need to delay answering an email because of your mood, drag the email over to the task list and set the to-do for tomorrow.

Skill 2: Understanding Medical Office Software

Acronyms come and go, but the basic software that supports medical practices remains the same. Practice Management Systems (PMS) typically include registration, scheduling, billing and reporting as one component. Today’s systems are built around the billing function, with scheduling and registration supporting the ability to generate electronic claims and post payments back to the transactions. Because billing is becoming more standardized, it is the reporting that can make or break a practice.

Electronic Medical Records (EMR) are sometimes referred to in a broader sense as EHR (Electronic Health Records) and range from the simplest of systems which act as a repository for the electronic chart to the most sophisticated systems which may include digital imaging, e-prescribing, complex messaging, medication reconciliation, and test alerting, among others. EMR and PMS can be totally integrated, or can interface with each other, populating the other uni-directionally or bi-directionally. Those mangers with a deeper understanding of their own software systems will find it easier to implement pay for performance measures such as PQRI and e-prescribing, and will not have to rely on vendors to educate them.

PACS is Picture Archiving and Communication System and allows easy indexing and retrieval of images. PACS exists primarily in radiology and surgical specialty offices, but as more hospitals extend EMR and PACS privileges to physician offices, managers will need to understand something about the technology.

Other systems that will interface to your system are transcription, outsourced billing systems, data warehouses, claims clearinghouse, electronic posting systems, and web services interfaces. Get or make a graphic representation of your software and hardware system/network so you can talk knowledgeably about it and understand the effects of adding new servers, workstations or software modules.

Skill 3: Using Technology to Stay Current in Your Field

Magazines, newspapers and even television news is losing favor as people find the latest and most in-depth news on the Internet. For physician office managers, news and important information is available through websites, newsletters, newsfeeds, webinars, podcasts, listservs and blogs. How does a manager sift through all these options and stay current with the demand of running a day-to-day practice?

One of the most important ways to consolidate this information is to subscribe to a feedreader or email from websites you like and have the news come to you (called “push technology”), instead of you checking the website every few days or whenever you remember (aka “pull technology”). These are the programs that will eventually do away with most, if not all, of your magazine subscriptions. You know that guilty pile of professional magazines that you have in your office or at home that you have scanned but still plan to read in-depth? Gone!

Most websites offer email or RSS options to their users. An email option asks you to enter your email address and will email you when new information is available, typically offering the full content inside the email itself. This is ideal for anyone who has these emails automatically placed into an email subfolder to read later.

RSS stand for Really Simple Syndication and is a way to push the content of many sites into a feedreader, which is an organizer of website feeds. There are many feedreaders available at no cost and adding a new website feed to your personal feedreader is as simple as clicking on the orange RSS icon on the website page and identifying the feedreader you use. The nice thing about using RSS is that you can group sites into categories you decide upon, it is easy to add new sites and drop sites that you find a waste of your time, and you do not clog up your email program with lots of emails.

Webinars and podcasts are another way to stay current. Many webinars are free and allow you to dip your toe into the pool of knowledge on a particular topic. Webinars with a fee attached are usually longer and more in-depth, and can replace the traditional go-to conference which has become a budget breaker for many practices.

eBooks are quickly becoming the way to get just the information you want when you want it. Most eBooks are reasonably priced (some are free) and can be stored or printed.

Skill 4: Online Patient Interactions and Web 2.0 Applications

Patient interactivity via practice websites is growing exponentially. Many practices are using web functionality to communicate with their patients via secure messaging. This allows bi-directional communication such as:

1. Request an appointment (patient) or appointment reminders (practice)
2. Send statements; patients pay online with a credit card (practice & patient)
3. Inform patients of test results (practice)
4. Create personal health records (patient)
5. Request a prescription refill (patient)
6. Virtual office visits (practice & patient)
7. Complete registration via fillable.pdf forms and download to practice management system (practice & patient)
8. Request medical records; send an electronic copy of same (practice & patient)
9. Complete a history of present illness prior to the on-site visit (patient)
10. Ask & answer questions for the doctor, nurse, or staff (patient & practice)

If you’re not looking into ways to communicate with your patients electronically, start now. Web 2.0 is now more typically referred to as social networking, social media or new media. What started out as a way for friends to communicate with each other is now an amazing, ever-expanding ability to connect/market to businesses, patients and referrers. Very few medical practices are using social media, but they should, because it is the way of the future, and in many cases, very affordable.

Skill 5: Knowledge Management and Retention

Most medical offices try hard to document processes such as “How To Make An Appointment For Dr. Jones,” but find it difficult to keep up with documenting changes to those written protocols. Documentation is crucial for operations in that it supports job performance and consistency, and is a basis for training new employees. The traditional documentation method for most practices is use of Word documents, which can create an immediate usability logjam. Due to cost, Microsoft Office is not installed on many workstations, and many office employees are not trained to use Word, so the onus for original creation of and changing of protocols falls to one person. Changes in healthcare are happening so quickly that it is not reasonable for one person to be able to update all documentation, unless they are dedicated to it on a full-time basis.

Better and more affordable solutions are becoming available. Speech recognition and office wikis are two possibilities for documenting office processes. Speech recognition (you may already be using it for your transcription) is a very affordable solution, but it does take time to train the program to recognize your voice. If you are not used to dictating, it may also be a learning curve, but it is one that will pay dividends down the road. Doctors can use it to help you by dictating their preferences, such as appointments, patient intake, room set-up, procedure set-up, patient phone protocol and after-hours call contact protocol.

Private wikis are another good bargain in the marketplace, as many are available at no cost, and may be installed and managed on the web. Wikis need at least one person to function as editor. Since you can have your entire staff work on documentation, the staff becomes very invested in the process of keeping the wiki fresh and up-to-date.

There are other free or low-cost project management web programs that can also be used to track changes and remind staff to document changes later. The one area that is most important for tracking changes and managing knowledge in the practice is in billing. Many practices are held hostage by their billers as their knowledge is so specific and proprietary that the manager feels s/he could not recoup it if they left. No practice should be vulnerable based on knowledge any single employee has, including the manager.

Entry Level Information Technology Jobs

In its short lucrative history, the Information Technology industry has produced millions of jobs in a multi-billion dollar market. Most people acknowledge that jobs in the Information Technology industry are careers for the future. But the diversity and complexity of fields within the industry make entry level jobs difficult to attain.

This article explores the preparation and career management that is essential in order to present yourself as a top information technology job candidate. Regardless of how fancy you make the language in your resume and cover letter you need to produce meaningful and relevant content throughout your entire job application process in order to stand out an exceptional candidate and secure the job offer.

My top five tips in order to supercharge the content of your job application and position you as a genuine contender are as such:

1. Knowledge of the IT Industry

A universal understanding of the entire industry is crucial in order to fully appreciate the duties of the offered role. Let me explain, Candidate #1 understands the basics of a help desk role. He focuses his job application on his Windows desktop and outlook skills. Candidate #2 understands the help desk role from the perspective of the entire organization. She also lists her desktop and outlook skills in her job application documentation, however, she also explains her understanding of the role by identifying that a quality help desk solution reduces the pressure on escalation staff such as systems administrators as well as helping the organization to meet service delivery targets.

2. A job seekers identity

Many job seekers try to list their every conceivable skill in the hope that one of them may trigger the interest of a potential employer. By focusing your application on a single field you can filter out unnecessary skills and accentuate core competences. Unless otherwise specified, there is no need to mention C# skills when applying for a Windows desktop support role. It would be most beneficial, however, to highlight PC hardware experience or Windows operating system experience.

3. A consistent career path

A history of relevant studies, work experience, interests, achievements or club memberships demonstrates developing expertise in the field. This type of prolonged and diverse experience suggests that, besides being capable of doing the job, you may well be able to value add to existing processes.

4. Relevant and focused resume.

As well as highlighting only relevant skills, it’s important that your resume show the history of the development of your skills. This gives your resume a great deal more credibility than isolated sweeping statements such as “I have excellent SQL query skills”. The history of skills development may include studies, home projects, work experience and interests.

5. Talk the talk

Know common acronyms and concepts in the field. Also, make sure that you are aware of emerging trends and that you are able to converse about the potential or the impact of the technology. Cloud computing, for example, may be a topic of conversation. One may express an interest in this concept as it applies to risk management, business continuity and disaster recovery. This allows you to show progressive thinking and organizational awareness of Information Technology challenges.

As you may see, a fruitful way to distinguish yourself from hundreds of similar job applicants is to demonstrate some background knowledge relevant to the offered role. It’s not difficult to do but it does take some planning. If you seek professional assistance to help you find an entry level job, make sure that they are Information Technology specialists. It’s all too easy to get caught up with extravagant language and commanding phrases, but at the end of the day it’s the content of your application that will set you apart from the crowd.

Using Your GI Bill For a Degree in Information Technology

If your thinking of ways to make the transition back to the civilized world and you are interested in the field of technology, you have the opportunity to use your generous GI Bill benefits to kick start your career.

About The New GI Bill and Montgomery Bill

In July of 2008, the new Post 9/11 GI Bill was signed into law and the benefits have been described as highly robust. Of course, the benefits are tiered based on the amount of days served on active duty. In general, the benefits are for service members and veterans who would like to attend education and training programs through an accredited school. You must have served as a member of the Armed Forces, National Guard, or Reserves for a minimum of 90 days after September 10, 2001.

The new benefits of the Post 9/11 bill include:

  1. Up to 100% coverage of tuition and fees.
  2. A monthly living (housing) payment.
  3. Up to $1000 per year for books and supplies.
  4. A one time relocation allowance if you want to relocate to attend a school.
  5. An option to transfer benefits to other family members.

This is not an exhaustive list of the benefits; however, it does highlight some of the most important aspects of the bill. If you are going to pursue a degree completely online or through a distance learning program, you may not be eligible for the housing stipend. You can inquire about your personal benefits eligibility by calling the Department of Veteran’s Affairs hotline at 1-888-GIBILL-1.

The Montgomery Bill

The Montgomery Bill is similar to the GI Bill, but it is specifically for those who have agreed to be on the Reserves programs for a period of 6 years. It doesn’t require that you have actual service in the Armed Forces in order to qualify. You can use your benefits to attend both traditional colleges and universities as well as Technical Schools and colleges that offer IT programs. In addition to the education fees, the Montgomery Bill will also cover any certifications or licenses needed in order to get a job in the civilian world.

Why Military Technology Skills Translates into an IT Degree

Many of the duties performed while in the military are centered around the use and application of different forms of technology. Serving in the military is often cited as a kind of testing ground for the use of one’s skills out in the field where one can “try on” different types of jobs that might suit their interests and skills in the civilian world. Those who have enjoyed using technology skills in the military have found potential for a civilian career in information technology.

It can be frustrating to learn that even though you have work experience using IT skills in the military, many employers in the civilian realm are unsure how it translates into the type of job candidate they need for a particular job. This is where completing a formal education to supplement your experience is the necessary ingredient to your success. Once you complete your IT degree, you will have the advantage of being able to show both formal education and applied experience on your resume.

Some of the more common transitions into IT careers using military experience occur in the sub field of Computer Forensics, IT Project Management, and Computer Networking, just to name a few. The military often conducts it’s own investigations into matters using computer forensics. Forensics is the use and application of technology to solve crimes. Other options include Information Security, Graphic Design, and Multimedia. The military works closely with private companies to develop 3-D interactive training software.

All of these possibilities within the field of Information Technology are within your reach with the generous benefits of your post 9/11 GI and Montgomery Bill. Be sure to take advantage of them and get your career started.