(c) Barclays PLC

(c) Barclays PLC*

A few days ago, the ATM turned 50. The first ATM in the world debuted in London in 1967; we got our first one in the US in 1969. Wow! I bet that the ATM has been around longer than many of you reading this.

It’s hard to imagine a time when this technology wasn’t on every street corner. Yet when the ATM was first introduced, it was slow to catch on. In fact, it took about 30 of those 50 years for the ATM to be used by 2/3 of consumers — and even as recently as 2013, more than 10% of consumers still had yet to pick up the ATM habit.

The ATM’s slow-but-steady path to everyday use got me thinking about technology in the medical practice. Technologies to connect patients and practices, especially on the administrative side, have emerged at a fantastic pace in the past few years. But many practices we’ve worked with have hesitated to implement them, for fear that the majority of their patients won’t use them. Some practices that have implemented, say, a patient portal or online scheduling, have been disappointed because only a portion of patients seem excited to use it.

“Laurie,” they say, “we tried that. Only 20% of our patients used it. It was a failure, so we abandoned it.”

But when the ATM was first introduced, the adoption rate was much slower even than a 10% or 20% utilization your practice might see on its new payment portal or online schedule. So why didn’t the banks give up? After all, implementing an ATM network is a massive, risky, very costly undertaking. So why were the banks undeterred by their meager initial results? And what can we learn from it for our own technology initiatives?

The key is to focus less on the people who don’t try the technology, and more on the people who do.

For every one of those few customers who used the ATM in those early days, the bank could declare a victory. The consumer who wanted to use an ATM enjoyed a very satisfying new convenience. Plus, every transaction that was completed by the ATM was one that a teller didn’t have to complete. That saved the bank a little bit of money, and allowed the bank’s tellers a bit more capacity for more valuable tasks the ATMs couldn’t perform. Every use of the ATM represent a win-win for the bank and its customers.

Of course, the banks also expected that the trends that led them to try ATMs in the first place — consumers increasingly on the go, self-service emerging as a desirable option, growing consumer comfort with technology — were going to accelerate. That meant that getting started, even slowly, would allow banks to learn more about how to serve the consumers of the future with technology. The ATMs also became a form of marketing for the banks, a symbol of how advanced they were versus their competitors.

All of these reasons apply to the technology that can connect patients and your practice. Even if only a small fraction of your patients pay their bills or look up test results via a portal, you’ve served those patients much better. They’ll value the convenience — and your practice will save resources. And even if implementing online scheduling or a check-in kiosk is choppy at first, you’ll be learning and refining as you go.

There’s an old saying that is often repeated in the tech industry: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It applies to technology implementations in practices, too. Don’t let unrealistic expectations about how quickly patients will try a new technology cause you to lose sight of the project’s value. Usually, even if only a small percentage of patients grab onto a self-service solution at first, your practice and those patients will benefit. And once you get started, you’ll begin learning how to improve your use of technology — and that will give you a leg up in serving your patients better.






*Barclays Bank was the first to launch an ATM in Enfield, North London. Barclays celebrated the 50th anniversary of the occasion with a new, gold ATM at that same location.

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