A practice management (PM) system is the glue that binds a healthcare provider practice. It’s the primary tool office staff count on for effective communication and streamlined coordination between patients, providers and systems. A PM system tracks many moving parts of your business, and your patients are counting on your office to run smoothly.
Whether you’re still using a paper-based management system or thinking of switching from your current PM system to a new one, here are some best practices to consider as you conduct your PM system search.
Features and Functionality
Start with the “why” when you’re choosing a PM system: Why would your practice benefit from a PM system? Once you’ve answered the “why,” it’s time to examine the “what”: What features do you really need? What benefits do you hope to gain?
According to the American Medical Association, PM systems typically have the functionality to:
- Capture patient demographics
- Schedule appointments
- Preregister patients – includes insurance eligibility and benefits check
- Determine patient financial responsibility
- Maintain insurance payer lists
- Perform billing
- Generate reports
A Software Advice analysis of 200 practices found that the top five requested features of a PM system include:
- Scheduling – 81 percent
- Treatment plans, assessments and progress notes – 66 percent
- Billing – 66 percent
- Fully integrated EHR system – 65 percent
- Insurance coding/claim scrubbing and tracking – 51 percent
It sounds obvious, but ease of use should be at the top of your considerations. If a system is difficult to use, your staff will lose enthusiasm, which can lead to lower adoption of the PM system’s features. Also, when contemplating the information you want to derive from your system, take time to determine exactly what level of reporting you need. Some practices only need basic reports while others may want in-depth analytics, performance insights and the ability to set KPIs.
It’s important to remember that one size does not fit all. Like with any major purchase, there’s a vast spread between a basic solution to the best-in-class that includes all the bells and whistles. Keep in mind that you don’t want to toss money away on the shiny extras if you’ll never use them. More features and sophistication are great, but they may not be right for your practice.
Integration Is Key
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns when choosing a PM system is considering its integration capabilities with your other technology systems and tools, such as your claims clearinghouse. Combining most of your systems into your PM ecosystem so you're not switching among several platforms and workflows will save time and stress. This includes the ability to manage your billing and scheduling activities in your PM’s interface.
It’s also best practice for your PM system to integrate with your EHR system. Doing so saves you time, money, reduces the risk of data entry mistakes and lowers the risk of privacy breaches, which can be costly. It also allows the seamless sharing of clinical and practice management data between the two programs. This affords both administrative and clinical staff instant access to info they are seeking.
To make your PM system work for you, make sure it’s flexible. What do we mean by flexible? If your team has established workflows and templates, you’ll want a PM system that can incorporate them. Additionally, you might want to consider a solution that allows users to customize their own dashboards to best match their responsibilities. For example, your registration team may want a dashboard that includes functions related only to their duties, while your back-end office staff may prefer functions that include billing and clinical information. Be sure your integrated solutions also have the functionality and flexibility you’re accustomed to when they are paired with your PM system.
Beware of PM systems that are too rigid and try to dictate how you run your business. For example, if a system doesn’t support one of your payers, you may be forced to pay for an additional service on top of the one your PM system is forcing you to use. Also steer clear of solutions that don’t allow you to choose your own vendors.
Training and Support
Don’t overlook the importance of staff training and client support. Since your PM system will be the central nervous system of your practice, your team must be well-trained and know exactly how to get help quickly when they have questions. Be certain to get an explicit implementation and training plan from any PM vendor you’re evaluating.
Purchasing a PM system is a costly commitment. Like other healthcare systems, costs in the PM system market vary widely based on the type of practice, your needs and the features you desire. It’s best to sit down with your prospective vendors and map out all the things you require to eliminate ambiguity. Also, watch for hidden costs, particularly those tied to certain features. Items you may see charged on top of monthly subscription fees might include a cost per eligibility transaction or taking a percentage of collections.
If you’re considering a cloud-based system, you’ll likely pay your vendor a monthly subscription fee. If you purchase self-hosted software, the payment plan may vary. Don’t forget: If you decide to self-host software, you’ll likely incur additional hardware upgrades you may need to run the PM application, including servers and backup hard drives.
Undoubtedly, your practice will reap the many benefits of automation, workflow enhancements and conveniences of the right PM system. With so many vendor choices, be sure to examine all your needs, do your homework and ultimately choose the PM system that will drive ROI and efficiencies.
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