Merging practices find IT may not blend well

By Pamela Lewis Dolan
http://www.ama-assn.org

As three mid-size physician practices in Tampa, Fla. — LoCicero Internal Medicine, South Tampa Medical Group and Pinnacle Health Group — finalized plans to merge into one large practice, it occurred to the parties involved that there was still one major decision that had to be made: Which of the electronic systems would the newly formed practice use?

Making a technology investment, whether it be an EMR, a practice-management system or e-prescribing, is a major decision for practices of any size. When the appropriate system is finally found, the prospect of giving it up in favor of another system can be daunting.

But experts say the number of practice consolidations will likely rise in coming years, and some physicians may be asked to make a switch. They may be forced to embrace the technology or be out of a job.

“Ten years ago this is an issue that wouldn’t have mattered to us at all,” said Nick Galantino, practice administrator of LoCicero Internal Medicine. “When we made the decision to purchase an EMR, we didn’t factor in that other people will be using this, and will it make sense when it comes time to merge with other practices.”

At the time talks began on the merger, scheduled to close in January 2009, LoCicero and Pinnacle were both approximately three years into successful EMR implementations.

The South Tampa Medical Center was in the beginning stages of implementation. All three were on different systems.

Both LoCicero and Pinnacle love their systems, which have widespread acceptance from their physicians. But eventually, physicians from one of the practices will have to abandon their system and go through the pains and frustrations of learning a new one.

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