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The Technology Behind Mobile Charge Capture

Aug 17, 2007
Mobile charge capture for the medical community is growing exponentially due to technological advances in phones and mobile software. Every month, advances are being released that allow mobile charge capture vendors to enhance their products for the industry. Is your mobile charge capture vendor ensuring you have access to the latest and greatest technology? In this article we will explore key technology advances to ensure you are maximizing your time.

Offline vs. Online Solution

Online solutions require a constant connection. This means you are basically working directly off a local or offsite servers at all times. Typically, online solutions are web based and very robust. The drawback is that if you do not have a connection, you are not able to perform any functions. Online solutions are not recommended due to the inconsistent nature of connections, coverage issues and potential signal blocking by some facilities. Choosing a vendor that requires a constant connection can put your charge capture process at extreme risk.

Offline solutions can be as robust as online solutions. While not requiring a constant connection. The strength of an offline solution is based on your charge capture vendors ability to navigate the complexity of synchronization. Offline solutions allow you to capture charges even when no connection is available. When a connection becomes available, the application has the ability to update the data with the synchronizing server. A well designed offline solution allow users every feature of an online solution without the disruption of inconsistent signals. Therefore, selecting an offline solution is strongly recommended.

Synchronizations

Synchronizations are extremely complex. When selecting a mobile charge capture vendor, be sure you investigate their synchronization technology. You should also have a good understanding of their methodology and technical competence. If synchronizations are not a core element of the product, chances are you will lose data.

There are two ways to initiate a synchronization; manual or automatic. Manually initiating synchronization is when the user must activate the synchronization. Automatic means the application performs the synchronization. A well designed synchronization engine is very intensive during the synchronization process. If you are using automatic synchronization, your mobile charge capture application must perform the following during each sync: (assuming your vendor has a robust sync process)

1) Wake the device
2) Ping the server to ensure there is a connection
3) Send data to the server
4) Receive data from the server
5) Confirm send data matches received
6) Confirm received data matches sent
7) Close connection

If any of the above steps fail, it should try again. If a 2nd attempt fails, your device should try again on a reassigned interval.

Many users assume that automatic syncs are the way to go but there are two main complaints:

1) Cost on battery charge this is more significant than email because of the amount of steps
2) The application waking up. Physicians complain about this because the device will wake up, beep etc when they are trying to sleep

The preferred method of synchronization of seasoned mobile charge capture users is manual synchronization. With mobile charge capture, you want to ensure you can synchronize using multiple methods. At a minimum your mobile charge capture solution should have the capability to sync using:

1) Cellular signal
2) Cradle to computer
3) Wireless

Additional nice to haves are:

4) Bluetooth
5) IRDA

Check with your vendor. If they cannot at least perform synchronizations using the top three, move on, they have not thought through synchronizations. The best vendors will encompass all five.

Multi-threaded and Differential Synchronizations

Due to the fact that synchronizations are extremely complex, be sure your mobile charge capture vendor has a very good understanding of synchronization. You are placing your livelihood on this technology. First, ensure it is multi-threaded. This means while your application is synchronizing you can perform other tasks. Multi-threaded applications can perform multiple tasks simultaneously. When you synchronize, if you are unable to do anything else your application is not multi-threaded.

You also want to ensure the application performs differential synchronizations. This means it only sends and receives changed data from the servers. If it does not perform differential synchronizations, your application sends all data to the server every time. The time differential can be 5 to 10 minutes. A well designed, multi-threaded differential synchronization engine will perform a sync in under 20 seconds depending on the amount of data. A question you may be asking is if your application is multi-threaded, then what does it matter? Have you ever dropped a call on your cell phone or lost network connectivity on your computer? This happens all of the time. The shorter the sync, the less likely your sync will fail.

Defensive coding

Ask your vendor; do you perform defensive coding? If they ask you what that is, run as fast as you can! Defensive coding is a technique used to develop software for the worst case scenario. What happens if I lose a connection during synchronizations? What happens if my phone is stolen; can the thief extract my data? What happens if I am creating a bill and receive a phone call, text and email at the same time? Ask your mobile charge capture vendor these questions, they are real life scenarios. If your mobile charge capture vendor can answer them, then you should feel safe in your selection.

In summary, it is very important that you research the technology utilized by your mobile charge capture vendor. You should determine the risks for your practice of an online or offline solution. The key to a great offline solution is the technology behind synchronizations. Does the solution provide multiple methods for synchronization? Is the solution multi-threaded and does it allow for differential synchronizations. Most important did the charge capture vendor develop logic to support all the possible scenarios that can occur within a synchronization (defensive coding)? By thoroughly researching your charge capture vendors technology you will be able to implement the best solution for your practice.
About the Author
James Casey is a certified six sigma black belt and project management professional (PMP). He has 15 years experience as a leader in the healthcare and technology industries implementing technology solutions.
To learn more about charge capture technology please visit MediMobile. http://www.medimobile.com
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