Practice Management Software Buyer's Guide
A Medical Group Management Association survey shows that there are, on average, 4.67 administrative staff members per full-time physician in a non-hospital medical practice. These practices spend an average of $52,099 per full-time physician to support these admin functions. These are large numbers. While administrative help is necessary, all practices seek to minimize expenses while ensuring they meet all requirements of running an efficient practice.
Some of the key issues that have impacted medical practices are:
- increasing complexity of their operations
- requirements for larger up-front investments
- more complex regulatory environment
- increasing patient expectations
- more complex relations with reimbursement agencies
- more stringent requirements for billing, etc.
Documentation requirements have also become more stringent, and as a result, practices have seen an increase in the numbers of their administrative staff
That is where Practice Management Software solutions come in.
Key Features of a Good Practice Management Software Solution
A good quality practice management software solution should help the practice:
- minimize the time spent in managing patient records and charts. The data must be ready to use whenever and wherever the physician needs it.
- quickly and easily find patient information.
- eliminate, or drastically reduce, manual data entry to minimize mistakes due to human error. This can be done through voice recognition.
- reduce payment delays: the solution will check that all services and procedures are billed, minimize claim errors, and maintain an electronic record of bills and their lifecycles.
- spend less time collecting bills, more time helping patients.
- better handle coverage and reimbursement issues.
- ensure compliance with government and industry regulations.
- improve the quality of patient-physician interactions to boost patient loyalty.
- streamline administration and management processes and reduce employee turnover.
- run the practice more efficiently.
How to Choose the Right Practice Management Software Solution
When medical practices start looking for the right practice management solution, they may be overwhelmed by the choices they have. There are a large number of solutions on the market, and selecting one can be difficult. To add to the pressure, choosing the wrong solution could negatively impact the practice.
Since the medical practice management solution provider will work as a virtual partner for your practice, it is important to select a vendor that has a large user base. This gives you a greater guarantee that the vendor will continue to support, improve and upgrade your PM solution. A large user base also gives assurance that the vendor is financially stable, is likely to stay in business and will invest in its products and solutions.
As you delve deeper, you will find that many solutions target a particular niche. There are a very large number of solutions that are built specifically to handle a certain kind of practice. It is but natural that these will perform better in their chosen domains, as compared to general-purpose solutions. If you do get a solution that claims to be built for your kind of practice, check if it ticks the following boxes:
- Does the solution understand what is unique to your specialty? How is this demonstrated? Does it offer the right reporting tools that will boost your practiceâ€™s operations?
- Will the solution recognize the procedures your practice performs regularly? How detailed are the templates for these procedures? How advanced are the best practices it offers?
- If your practice involves multiple locations and inventory, can the solution handle these?
Ease of Use
There may be different views about what features are critical to your practice. What is critical to the front desk naturally will be different from what the physician values. A list of critical features will need to be created for each user type. In most cases, if you look hard enough you should be able to find solutions that satisfy most of these requirements.
While every vendor will claim that its solution is easy to work with, it is important that you ask for working demos or a trial. Employees should get an opportunity to work with the solution, to see for themselves how intuitive and easy to use it really is.
Many vendors will promise extensive customization to meet your requirements. This is something you must approach with caution. Customizations make the solution more complex and will have an impact on upgrades and maintainability. Look for applications that meet most of your requirements right off the shelf. Unless your requirements are truly very complex, you should be able to find several solutions without requiring any major customization.
Scheduling and Appointments
This may appear to be a routine activity, but it impacts most aspects of a practiceâ€™s workflow. The scheduler should provide:
- the ability to accommodate multiple doctors, offices and equipment on the fly.
- the ability to overbook appointments, to account for cancellations and no-shows.
- the ability to check patient eligibility as the appointment is booked. The solution should check that the patientâ€™s coverage is current and includes the requested procedures.
- a robust and intuitive patient portal: can your typical patient register and make appointments with ease? Does the portal send notifications and reminders to minimize no-shows? How easy is it for the patient to fill out forms online, prior to the appointment?
Compliance and Security
HIPAA compliance is mandatory. Check if the solution is fully compliant and ask for necessary certifications. ICD-10 code compliance is essential: no bills will get paid without it. If you are already using another medical application that will need to share data with your PM solution, Health Level 7 (HL7) compliance becomes necessary.
Data security is a critical requirement. SSL security is easy to confirm by checking that all web addresses used in the browser begin with an https rather than a simple http.
Yet another security requirement is met by defining user rights and access authorizations. The system must differentiate and understand the various roles and related tasks. This will ensure that users only have access to patient and clinic data they need to work with, and will minimize the amount and type of data that may be compromised in the event of a security breach.
Most modern systems allow users to connect anytime, from anywhere. Even this capability should be selectively enabled. While you may want to allow your physicians to remotely access patient records, paramedics and admin staff will not need this capability. Ensure that the system is capable of allowing global access to only a selected subset of users.
Practice Management software solutions come with a large number of built-in reports. These are critical to the efficiency of the practice.
Meaningful reports need to measure the practiceâ€™s key performance indicators (KPIs), as well as industry-specific criteria. Reports can be customized: check if this is easy to do. If your practice already uses a third-party report generation tool, check if integration is easy to establish and if your report writing tool will continue to work as efficiently as before.
The administrative dashboard should be easy to set up and use, and give you access to all the information you need to run the practice efficiently.
As with most software solutions, practice management can be deployed on premises or in the cloud. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach:
- All data is stored locally, giving better control over the solution.
- You can expect better performance (speed, load time, computing, etc.) since all data is available over the local network.
- Additional hardware needs to be procured (servers, firewalls, etc.).
- Security and compliance are your responsibility; specialist staff may need to be hired.
- Backup and management need to be handled on site.
- Multi-site implementations are complex to handle.
- Up-front costs are high; updates may have to be paid for and managed by your staff.
- The application and data reside on servers in a data center (in some cases, some components of the application could be local).
- No additional hardware is required; any PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone that can connect to the Internet will do. This also ensures native support for mobile users and multiple locations.
- Payment is subscription based, usually monthly, depending on the number of users.
- Updates are automatic. The vendor continues to keep the system updated.
- The responsibility for system maintenance, HIPAA compliance, security and database management rests with the vendor.
- Uptime of the solution is guaranteed by the vendor (but check what the penalties are in the event the guarantee is not met).
- The system is dependent on the quality of the Internet connection. Alternative connectivity must be secured to keep the system up at all times.
In many cases, cloud-based systems offer solutions to work around situations where Internet connectivity is disrupted for some time. It is important to ask prospective vendors about their options.
Support and Training
The quality of training and support provided by the vendor is an important factor. This can be assessed by talking to other users of the system. Ask for references or visit locations where the solution is already in use, and ask:
- Is the vendorâ€™s support staff responsive?
- Is there a good escalation mechanism for any problems that cannot be solved readily?
- What is the quality of training provided?
- Has there been significant downtime?
In many cases, end-users will procure the solution via a reseller and not directly from the vendor. Check what the responsibilities of the reseller are. Who will provide setup, support, training and warranty? Check out the reputation of the reseller: you could have selected a great solution, but a reseller who is not as responsive as you want.
When buying a practice management solution, the key considerations are:
- Establish a specific list of required features and compare vendors accordingly.
- Make sure the solution can handle your kind of practice and/or specialty.
- Check for ease of use, and robust and efficient appointment scheduling and management.
- Look carefully at reporting features: the tool should help you boost the practiceâ€™s performance across functions.
- Confirm compliance and security.
- Make sure sufficient support and training are provided by the vendor.
- Decide which deployment best fits your practiceâ€™s operations.
- Keep customizations limited; every customization will make it more difficult to manage upgrades and maintain the solution.
- Validate the vendorâ€™s and/or resellerâ€™s reputation: you are looking for a partner who will work hard to make your solution a success.