- Medical software consists primarily of practice management software and an electronic medical record (EMR) system.
- These software solutions work in tandem to streamline healthcare organizations’ administrative and clinical tasks.
- Choose your practice’s medical software based on its pricing, ease of use, features, integrations and available tech support.
- This article is for healthcare organization administrators or medical practice owners who are in the market for medical software.
Finding the right medical software, including a medical practice management platform and an electronic medical record (EMR) system, is an important task for every healthcare organization. Choosing the right software for your staff and workflow is critical to your practice’s success.
However, the abundance of options can make the decision overwhelming. In this guide, we’ll examine what medical software does and walk you through the decision-making process.
What is medical software?
Medical software is used to schedule appointments, track providers’ time, manage medical billing cycles and organize patient information. It also includes software for tracking clinical encounters and archiving medical records for patients, including prescription history and lab results.
It’s an essential component of modern medical facilities, as it allows them to stay organized and ensure high-level patient care. By consolidating all information related to patients and doctors into a single platform, the software enables medical professionals to navigate important details about patients and other information. Without this software, organizing a medical practice would be labor-intensive and subject to significant human error.
How to choose medical software
Medical software covers a wide range of operations, including patient outreach and revenue cycle support. As a result, the system you choose plays a large role in the success or failure of your practice. When you’re selecting medical practice management software and EMR systems, there are several important factors to keep in mind.
The cost of a practice management system varies depending on your needs, the features you select and the size of your practice. Hidden costs and optional features can quickly push up the base price.
Generally, a unified medical practice management and EMR system costs between $300 and $1,000 per provider per month, not including setup fees, implementation costs or add-on features. Some vendors include everything in a monthly subscription, while others offer a la carte menus or tiered pricing plans.
Go into the conversation with the vendor knowing what you need and what you don’t. Your top priority should be to obtain a written list of the features you’ll receive and the exact cost before you agree to partner with any vendor. Without a clear, written confirmation, it can be tough to know what’s included in the regular price and what costs extra. You might end up paying an additional fee for a feature you could live without.
Ease of use
Implementing and adapting to a new software system is difficult. Before you make a decision, make sure the staff members who will be using the new software are at least somewhat comfortable with it. Ideally, the vendor will assign you a company representative for onboarding.
Each vendor has its own approach, so to ensure a successful transition, it’s essential to determine the best fit for your practice. For example, some systems use a central dashboard to organize the software’s features, while others employ drop-down menus and pop-up windows. Any new system normally slows productivity a bit at first, but it should quickly improve as you get used to the system.
Experience with specialties
You’ll also want to choose software that’s widely used within your specialty. A general practitioner’s needs vary greatly from those of a dermatologist, for instance. There are likely some systems designed with your specialty in mind. If you go in another direction, you could end up with a bare-bones system that doesn’t meet your needs.
To avoid that scenario, it might be worth reaching out to other physicians or practices in your field to ask how they like their practice management software.
Another huge consideration for practice management software should be how well it interfaces with your practice’s EMR system, as well as with the medical software used by other healthcare providers your patients visit. Interfacing is the capability of the two systems to communicate and share relevant data.
When two systems integrate well, it helps you and your staff transfer data faster. If you’re scheduling patients and recording demographic information, that data should automatically be entered into the EMR system before a patient’s visit. Likewise, after a patient has been served, the EMR system should automatically send the practice management system the relevant billing information. This should also apply to your communications with other practices, specialists and hospitals.
Reporting and data analysis
Look for a medical software system that can create robust reports and analyze data to show you exactly where your practice stands financially. Simply managing your revenue cycle is not enough for your practice to remain viable; detailed reports and analyses can go a long way in helping you project, and even improve, your cash flow. For example, you’ll be able to identify which physicians are the most productive for your practice, or what neighborhoods most of your patients come from.
By identifying what works and what doesn’t, you can keep your practice on a sure-footed path to success and profitability. If your medical software allows you to electronically share those reports with other members of your practice, that’s even better.
Even if the system is easy to use, there will always be a learning curve. It’s also worth considering that your staff’s technical aptitude may vary. When your staff members are adapting to a new software platform, no matter how intuitive it is, they’re going to need some guidance. A truly committed vendor will offer comprehensive training, either on-site at your facility or one-on-one online.
In conversations with vendors, it’s important to receive a written breakdown of their training processes and any additional costs. With good training, your staff will quickly become comfortable with the practice management system, and any lag in productivity will be minimized.
As with all complex systems, you will eventually encounter a problem with your medical software. Before choosing a system, you need to know that a vendor will be responsive to your staff and accountable if an issue arises.
In some cases, a company might assign a direct liaison to your practice. This is a useful resource, as this individual will be familiar with both your system and how your practice works.
Other companies only have a tech support call center. It can be more difficult to solve a problem if the person who takes the call is unfamiliar with your medical software platform’s setup. Moreover, it’s important to know whether support services operate 24/7 or if you can contact tech assistance only during normal business hours.
Key takeaway: Medical software platforms are sprawling systems that should be chosen based on cost, ease of use, features, integrations and interfacing, reporting capabilities, and customer support.
What are the top features of medical software?
Intuitive and effective medical software is essential to a practice’s workflow. Here are some features to look for and why they matter.
Patient information tracking
The most basic – and arguably the most important – feature for medical practice management software is the ability to maintain up-to-date information on patients, including their medical history, family history, medications, allergies and recent lab results.
Medical practice management software can also be used to verify the status of a patient’s insurance – for example, confirming whether it is still active, estimating copayments and out-of-pocket expenses, and verifying prior authorizations.
Most medical practice management software includes a calendar tool that allows front-office staff to schedule patients by location and provider, making it quick and easy to review a patient’s information prior to their visit.
Good medical practice management software allows you to process payments and record billing history within one platform with built-in credit card processing capabilities. Front-office staff can capture out-of-pocket expenses upfront when a patient arrives for an appointment, and back-office staff can code medical claims for reimbursement and submit them to payers (such as insurance companies and Medicare). It also helps practices track denied and rejected claims.
To be effective at their jobs, clinicians and other medical professionals need patient data. Medical practice management software allows you to generate important patient reports for other doctors. These reports can improve patient care and ensure your practice gives patients and doctors accurate, useful information.
Similarly, medical practice management software can generate financial reports that help you track the profitability of your business. These reports include information such as accounts receivable, the number of days claims spend in accounts receivable, and total reimbursements versus expected reimbursements.
Did you know?: Medical practice management software can be a valuable tool for tracking your practice’s profitability and finding opportunities to recover lost revenue.
Why do you need medical software?
The first step in selecting practice management software is to understand what you need it to do. Here are a few benefits of the software:
Medical practice management software allows you to coordinate the financial and logistical aspects of your practice, including scheduling, billing and financial analysis. Handling these functions in one software platform helps your staff become more efficient and organized.
Automation and efficiency
Medical practice management software expedites tasks that otherwise slow down day-to-day operations. For example, a patient portal enables patients to request appointments and fill out forms online, and it sends patients reminders in order to reduce no-shows. This feature can sync with an insurance eligibility verification function to ensure a patient is covered once they arrive.
Integration with EMR systems
Medical practice management software and EMR systems, which cover clinical operations, are the two key components of your practice’s software suite. They share a great deal of data and should work together seamlessly. Many practice management software companies offer built-in EMR solutions.
Billing and financial analysis
If you keep your billing in-house instead of outsourcing it to one of the best medical billing services, your practice management system will help ensure claims are submitted to payers in a timely and proper manner. With help from diligent staff, medical practice management systems can increase the number of claims that get accepted by payers on the first pass and quickly collect reimbursements for services rendered.
Staff members can also use the software to respond to denials and rejections, generate financial reports, and pull data to analyze your practice’s fiscal health. (Note that you’ll also need a certified medical coder on staff if you intend to bill through your medical practice management system, especially with the recent update to ICD-11 coding standards.)
A medical practice management system also generates and sends patients their balance statements and pre-determines whether they owe anything out of pocket before you schedule appointments. This makes it easier to collect payments at the point of care. Engaging patients and granting them influence in their healthcare is not only a priority in the evolving healthcare industry but also makes for a better overall patient experience.
Additionally, these software systems facilitate direct communication between patients and the practice through a secure patient portal. Many now offer telemedicine capabilities as well. In the portal, patients can update their address, insurance information, preferred pharmacy and more, and staff can review and accept these changes prior to the patient’s next appointment.
Key takeaway: Medical practice management software helps to coordinate administrative operations, keep patients engaged with the practice and ensure the practice’s financial performance meets expectations.
EMR systems vs. medical practice management software
EMR systems, also known as electronic health record (EHR) systems, are clinical software tools that help providers capture notes during a patient visit, prescribe medications, order lab tests, generate superbills that can be turned into claims by the billing team, and monitor patients’ medical histories. They are distinct from but related to medical practice management software; these two types of software are typically integrated as a unified healthcare IT platform.
It’s best to think about medical practice management software as the administrative tool for a healthcare organization, covering front-office tasks such as setting appointments, verifying insurance eligibility and updating patient demographics. The EMR system handles the practice’s clinical data.
During the encounter, a clinician documents information about the patient and any diagnoses. Once the clinical documentation is complete and the patient encounter ends, the EMR system feeds that data back into the medical practice management software, allowing coders and billers to go to work.
Most healthcare organizations require both medical practice management software and an EMR system, and many vendors sell these software solutions as a package. Generally, the best option is to use unified EMR and medical practice management software from the same vendor, as these solutions are guaranteed to work well together. Connecting software from different vendors via an application programming interface is possible but generally not recommended.
Key takeaway: EMR systems work in tandem with medical practice management software to support clinical operations and track patients’ medical histories over time.
Our medical software best picks
There are many medical software options, and the best platform for your practice will depend on your specific needs, priorities, budget and other factors. However, our picks for the best medical software are a great place to start, including our DrChrono review, which highlights the platform’s user-friendly navigation and low prices, and our review of AdvancedMD, which emphasizes a strong slate of features for advanced functionality.
If you’re in the market for a medical software platform that will improve your practice’s workflow, review our best picks to get your research started on the right foot. Each of our best picks has specific advantages and may be the solution your team needs.
Choosing the right medical software is critical to success
Medical practice management software has become an essential tool for delivering quality care. Providers should remember that the system they choose has far-ranging implications for their practice. Making the right choice can streamline workflows and boost revenue, so consider all of the above factors when investigating the market and determining which solution is best for you.
Matt D’Angelo contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.