Incorporating new technology into the workplace can be daunting, but a recent study found that 46% of workers feel more productive at work with access to technology, and some O&P practices are reaping the benefits of learning new tools and methods.
A Pew Research Center study of technology’s impact on workers found that 94% of jobholders are also Internet users, and 61% of working Internet users rely most heavily on email as a communication tool. Workers reported that access to the Internet, cell phones and email allows them to expand their circle of communication and work more flexible hours. The study also found that 35% of working Internet users believe access to technology causes them to work more hours, and 54% said Internet and cell phone access are “very important” in allowing them to work remotely when away from the workplace.
Workers in office-based positions were three times as likely as those in non-office-based jobs to say email is “very important” for doing their job (75% vs. 25%, respectively). Additionally, office-based workers were twice as likely as non-office-based workers to say the Internet is “very important” for doing their jobs (68% vs. 26%).
More than just communication
In the field of O&P, technological opportunities go far beyond email and Internet access. Technology can be used during every patient visit to provide more accurate data collection and improve patient care, according to Cara Negri, BSME, CP, owner and director of PnO Data Solutions. Negri’s company creates web-based and desktop software for O&P practitioners that allows them to capture video and assess patient outcomes with movement analysis tools.
Negri said many practitioners are not ready to embrace this type of technology in their practice because they seem to be doing fine without it; the old maxim, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” seems to apply. In fact, Negri never considered the use of video to improve her practice until she was asked to compare two prosthetic knees on a patient in Australia. But after her first experience using video, she quickly learned its value. While she had seen no differences in a pre-product and post-product comparison for a patient while using her eye, she discovered something different when she reviewed the accompanying video footage.
“There is just so much going on that there is no way you can see everything,” she said. “Slowing it down and looking at things frame by frame really helps us to use video as a tool to aid in our clinical decision-making.”
For Brian Steinberg, CO/LO, president of the Center for Orthotic and Prosthetic Excellence (COPE) LLC in Munster, Ind., the incorporation of technology into practice is all about outcomes.
“We [in the field of O&P] are starting to see that we do need to utilize technology to move toward evidence-based practice and be able to justify the services we are providing to patients,” he told O&P News. “We [at COPE] are starting to do more outcomes testing with our patients. Our practice uses a couple [tests]. We use video technology as well as the BTS G-Walk for our testing and measurements.”
Everyone faces a learning curve when confronting a new technology. Negri said this can be the most difficult obstacle to overcome when implementing a new tool; many of her clients need help learning the basics.
Images: Steinberg B, Center Orthotic and Prosthetic Excellence.
“There are people who definitely have technology barriers – logging in, making sure their web browser software is up to date, connecting cameras [to the computer] … and also on the clinical side, [they need to know] what to do with that information. They observe the information and notice that it needs to be addressed and they do an analysis on the video. But then [they wonder], what do they do with that information? Who do they share it with and how do they use it for their documentation and their justification in order to enhance their business? Do they use it as a marketing tool?”
She added that resistance to technology is not always associated with age; rather, it a matter of priorities. “The practitioners who are always looking to improve their skills and improve their practice and always provide a better service for their patients – those are the people who are going to be more open-minded to learning a new skill or learning a new software or technology, because they know that the outcome is going to be improving their practice and protecting them [against audits],” she said. “If you have that video, [then] that is priceless. That is so much better than words. A lot of people are realizing the benefits rather than getting stuck on the ‘We have always done it this way. Why do we need that now?’ [attitude].”
Steinberg knows this attitude all too well. He remembers receiving a similar reaction from staff when he first introduced computers for office work. But now his facility is known as a practice that embraces technology. Training is key, he noted.
“We provide training [for video] and then we also continue to discuss at weekly practitioner meetings any issues or problems somebody is having,” Steinberg said. “We are doing a team-up now of practitioners. We will team up one that is stronger with [the technology] to one that is weaker with it, to help the person who is not as comfortable to bring up that comfort level with utilizing it.”
In addition to providing quantifiable data, Steinberg said video offers the benefit of providing a visual aid for patients.
“It is nice to visualize something. When [the patient] comes back in a week or a month and they see their scores on these tests improve … It is a motivator. It is good to show the patient [the numbers],” he said.
Steinberg said the data he is able to collect through the use of technology helps patients to better understand what O&P care is doing for their health.
“We bring it up on a big screen in our exam room for the patient [to explain] why this device is helping them and what they need to work on to go to the next level,” he said.
Negri said facilities also can set up a website to share clinical videos with individual patients and discuss them in a private setting.
“Sometimes can be an interactive way to provide information to the patient,” she said. “They can grasp that and biofeedback is a much quicker learning process for them than trying to explain a gait deviation with words.”
While many O&P practices have mastered the basic of Internet usage and email, Hector Perez believes there is still room for growth. Perez is director of patient services for Ortho Pro Associates in Miami.
Many people in O&P associate technology with things like 3-D printers or CAD/CAM, but “on the other side of technology is social media and using the Internet for business purposes. I think O&P is still a little bit behind the times [in these areas],” Perez said.
He believes this is due to a long to-do list for many O&P business owners.
“Other issues are top of mind such as Medicare, insurance, patient [care]…”
In addition, many practices cannot afford to take a gamble on every new invention.
“So they are slow to adapt to new technologies. They want to see how it works. They want to see it proven. They want to see it working at some other facility.”
Perez said Ortho Pro Associates uses technology as a referral source, which saves time and energy that used to be spent making in-person visits. The facility’s next technology project will be the use of Google services to translate its marketing materials into other languages to reach out to new patients. In addition Perez, who is also an amputee, frequently uses a cell phone or iPad during his visits as a peer mentor for patients.
Image: Steinberg B, Center Orthotic and Prosthetic Excellence.
“For example, I get a call from the Amputee Coalition that a patient needs a peer visit at the hospital. I will go visit them and motivate them by showing them pictures or videos of other amputees who have had that procedure. I will show them a video of an amputee walking, or a photo of somebody who just got their leg casted. That is more powerful than what any psychologist, religious figure or doctor can tell a patient,” he said. “If you have the patient’s buy-in, you can use the technology to help them and to help [yourself and colleagues] better figure out how to help the patient.”
Image: Steinberg B, Center Orthotic and Prosthetic Excellence.
Another hurdle for many facility owners is the time commitment associated with new technological tools, but Negri encourages them to consider both the costs and the benefits of learning a new technology.
“It will actually help you save time if you get used to it. But it depends on the practice – the mindset of the business owners [and] the mindset of the practitioners who are in the business,” she said.
Steinberg said it is never too early to begin implementing technology, and it is easier than ever thanks to online forums and free instructional videos on websites like YouTube. Negri agreed.
“You can watch a YouTube video on how to do just about anything, so it is a great resources to find out how to use different software and how to use different technology, that makes it [less] scary,” he said.
“I think that it is critical that we move toward evidence-based [practice] out there,” Steinberg added. “To survive in the future, I think technology is going to be a necessity.” – by Amanda Alexander
Purcell K, et al. Pew Research Center. Technology’s impact on workers. 2014. Available online at www.perinternet.org.
Disclosures: Negri is owner and director of PnO Data Solutions. Perez and Steinberg report no relevant financial disclosures.