If you have ever wondered why people are prepared to queue all night for the launch of the latest must-have gadget then it might help to know this behaviour has a name.
Early adopters are beloved by technology giants because they are willing (not to mention wealthy enough) to try innovative products and spread the word. The term comes from a 1962 book called Diffusion of Innovations1 by Everett M Rogers, a US sociologist who was interested in how ideas are spread until they reach critical mass. According to Rogers, people can be divided into five groups depending on how long they take to adopt new technology: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards who are the most reluctant to abandon tradition.
How does this apply to independent practice? I meet many consultants who are enthusiastic about the potential of new technology and like to keep their finger on the pulse. However, others are only concerned with having a tried and tested system on which they can depend.
It wouldn’t be right to push practices towards new technology for the sake of it as my job is to help practitioners find a solution that is right for them. However, I advise every practice in this position to take into account the following:
1. The financial outlay
Practices need to decide whether they are willing to commit the resources to a new system but this shouldn’t be a blank cheque. As a case study of what can go wrong, it’s hard to beat The National Programme for IT, an abandoned project to upgrade NHS computer systems which was thought to have cost more than £12bn over 10 years.
You need to understand the true cost of any new technology so you can determine whether it is really affordable. For example, will you need to factor in upgrade costs or ongoing expenses like back-up and technical support.
Technology that makes it quicker and easier to carry out essential administrative tasks could quickly pay for itself by boosting productivity. From Henry Ford’s assembly line to Amazon’s supply chain management, technology driven innovations made a dramatic difference to the performance of those companies.
The downside of being the first to try new technology, is that you are more likely to have to deal with early bugs and system glitches which are fixed for later users. Early adopters often relish engaging with tech companies in this way if it means they can influence future developments but this isn’t for everyone. Technology shouldn’t disrupt your practice; it should support it.
3. The cost of doing nothing
There is also a price to pay for clinging onto outdated technology, sometimes referred to as a laggard penalty. In February, the Government announced it was phasing out the non-emergency use of pagers by the end of 2021. The NHS currently pays £6.6million per year for these 1990s relics and that is without taking into account their impact on operational efficiency.
Whether it is lost revenue, poor cashflow or disgruntled staff, you need to consider the financial implications of sticking with the status quo.
4. What are your competitors doing?
In every business it makes sense to keep an eye on your competitors or there is a risk they will steal a march on you. Customers’ expectations are constantly evolving and there are countless examples of companies that lost ground because their products or services were perceived as old fashioned or out of touch. Big names are not immune either – look at what happened to Nokia or Kodak, two giants who fell into decline because they failed to innovate at the same pace as their rivals.
5. Your staff
In some cases, practitioners are persuaded to adopt new technology by employees who are fed up with time-consuming administrative tasks and know there is a better way. It certainly makes sense to ask new recruits about their experience of technology in other practices as this might be transferrable to your own situation.
Bear in mind too that some staff may be more adaptable than others. If someone’s computer skills are limited to what they need to get the job done, you should think carefully about how to implement any new technology and how easy it is to use. On the other hand, if staff feel that you are not interested in investing in something to help them work more productively, they might be tempted to look for a new employer.
As with every technology company, Healthcode is constantly developing innovative online products and services which help practices operate effectively. We’re always delighted when our customers are enthusiastic about new solutions and functionality and we certainly welcome user feedback as it helps us learn and improve.
However, whether someone is a technophile or a technophobe, I have found the best approach to building a positive working relationship with customers has echoes of the clinical consent process. In other words, technology providers need to listen to practitioners, discuss their options and give them all the information they need to make their own decision.
1Diffusion of Innovations, Everett M Rogers, First published 1962. 5th Edition, 16 August 2003, Simon and Schuster.