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How to Choose Medical Practice Management Software

image for Creativa Images/Shutterstock
Creativa Images/Shutterstock

Choosing medical practice management software is an important decision. The software not only includes your scheduling tools, which govern how you organize your patient appointments and keep track of which providers are booked at what times, but also helps your staff manage your billing cycle. Since practice management software covers such important parts of your business, it can either help you perform above and beyond your expectations or bring everything to a grinding halt. To ensure your practice is successful, it's critical to choose the best software for your staff and workflow.

In this guide, we'll examine what practice management systems do and walk you through the decision-making process. What features should you consider? What questions should you ask when shopping around? If you're looking for this type of software in 2019, make sure you choose a vendor partner that will be there for you every step of the way.

Editor's note: Looking for more information on medical practice management software? Fill out the questionnaire below and our vendor partners will contact you to help you make your decision.

The first step of selecting practice management software is understanding what roles you need it to play. Here are a few of the benefits of having the software.        

Practice management software is key to coordinating vital financial and logistical aspects of your practice, including scheduling, billing and financial analysis. Bringing each of these functions under the umbrella of one piece of software helps your staff become nimbler and more organized.

Practice management software expedites tasks that could otherwise slow down your day-to-day operations. For example, a patient portal takes some of the burden off of your front desk, allowing patients to request appointments and fill out forms online. Appointment reminders reduce the number of no-shows, and insurance eligibility verification ensures a patient is covered for a provider's services. The system that best matches your specialty and workflow will play a big role in your clinical and financial success.

Practice management software and electronic health records (EHRs) should work together seamlessly. These two components of your practice's healthcare IT suite need to share a great deal of data, which is why many practice management software companies offer built-in electronic medical record (EMR) solutions.

If you decide to keep your medical billing in-house instead of outsourcing it to a medical billing service, your practice management system will help ensure claims are submitted to payers in a timely and proper manner. In tandem with a diligent staff, practice management systems can increase the number of claims that are accepted by payers on the first pass.

Staff members can also use the software to respond to denials and rejections, as well as 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 practice management system, especially with the recent change to ICD-10.

A practice management system can also be a tool to generate and send patients their balance statements, and to predetermine whether patients will owe anything out of pocket before their appointment, making 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, it also makes for a better patient experience overall.

Already know all about practice management software? See our best picks page to read more about our top selections for practice management software.

While physicians rarely need to interact with their practice management software directly, it is an indispensable daily partner for staff members. Between engaging with patients and supporting your revenue cycle, the practice management system you choose plays a large role in the success or failure of your practice. When selecting practice management software, you should keep several important factors in mind.

The cost of any practice management system is highly variable depending on your needs, the features you select, and the size of your practice. Most companies can only give you a ballpark estimate without sitting down and going through the specifics of what you are asking for. There can be a lot of hidden costs and optional features that could quickly increase the base price.

Go into the conversation knowing what you need and what you don't. Your top priority through this process should be to obtain a written list of which features you will be getting for exactly what cost before you agree to partner with any vendor. Without clear, written confirmation, it can be tough to know what's included and what costs extra, and you might end up paying an additional fee for a feature you could live without.

Implementing a new system and adapting to it is difficult enough as it is, so make sure ahead of time that the people who will be using the new software are comfortable navigating it. Everyone works differently, so consult with your staff and include them in the decision-making process. They should at least be moderately comfortable with the system, and, ideally, the vendor will offer you a company representative to guide them through the learning curve.

Different practice management software is organized differently, so it's imperative to know what your staff is looking for. For example, some practice management systems use a central dashboard to organize the software's different features, while others employ a lot of dropdown menus and multiple popup windows. Knowing what is most effective for your practice's workflow is key to a successful transition. Any new system will naturally slow productivity a bit at first, but it shouldn't derail your entire practice.

You'll also want to ensure that the practice management software you choose is widely used within your specialty. There are nuances to different specialties that simply cannot be reflected by a general system, so you'll need to know whether the vendor took your specialty into consideration when designing the system. Otherwise, you might end up with a barebones system that is not optimized for the functions you require. For example, a general practitioner's needs vary greatly from those of a dermatologist.

To find out just how well each company performs in that regard, it might be worth reaching out to other physicians you know in your field to ask them how they like their practice management software.

Another huge consideration when choosing practice management software should be how well it will interface with the electronic health records (EHR) system your practice uses. Interfacing refers to the capability of both systems to communicate with one another and share relevant data. Two systems that interface well can reduce the time it takes you and your staff to enter and transfer data. If you're scheduling patients and recording demographic information, that data should automatically be entered into the EHR system when the patient comes in for a visit. Likewise, after a patient has been taken care of, the EHR system should automatically send the practice management system the relevant billing information based on the services provided.

Even great practice management software can become a nightmare if it doesn't work well alongside your EHR. If the two systems can't communicate properly, your staff might find themselves entering and re-entering the same data over and over, taking them away from more pressing tasks.

In addition to performing billing tasks well, you'll want a practice management system that can create robust reports and analyze data, showing 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 practice management software allows you to electronically share those reports with other members of your practice, that's even better.

Even if the system is incredibly easy to use, there will always be a learning curve. Also, consider the varying degrees of technical aptitude among your staff members. When your staff is adapting to a new piece of software, no matter how intuitive it is, they're going to need some guidance now and again. A truly committed vendor will offer comprehensive training, either onsite or one-on-one online.

It's important to receive in writing the training process the company engages in and any additional costs for staff training during the implementation period. Good training means your staff will become accustomed to and comfortable with the practice management system quickly, and it will reduce the amount your productivity suffers as your practice makes the transition from your previous system. 

A vendor partner should be expected to be there for you when something goes wrong. It's inevitable, as with all complex systems, that you will eventually encounter a problem, and the vendor should be available to help you recover from any issues. Further, if an issue arises on the vendor's end, you need to know that it'll be responsive and accountable for the error.

In some cases, a company might assign your practice a direct liaison. This is a useful resource for any practice, as this individual will be familiar with your particular system and the way your practice works. Other companies simply have a tech support call center; it might be more difficult to solve a problem if the person who takes the call is unfamiliar with your practice management system's setup. Moreover, it's important to know whether support services operate 24/7 or if you can only contact tech assistance during normal business hours.

A good relationship with a practice management vendor is founded on trust, and that is needed from the very start. What type of support you can expect and any additional costs for that support are more terms you should obtain in writing at the outset.

Medical practice management software varies in price depending on whether you purchase it as stand-alone software or part of a larger healthcare IT suite. Some companies offer multiple pricing tiers for different levels of service, while others offer a flat rate. Most require you to obtain a quote dependent on the size and scope of your implementation.

Practice management software, much like EMR software, is typically priced per provider, per month, meaning you pay a monthly rate multiplied by the number of providers at your practice. In our review, prices ranged from as low as $80 per provider per month to as high as $800. Pricing is far from the only factor you should consider, however, as there are often major differences between vendors.

Ready to choose your practice management software? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:

Editor's Note: Looking for more information on medical practice management software? Fill out the questionnaire below and our vendor partners will contact you to help you make your decision.

Adam Uzialko

Adam C. Uzialko, a New Jersey native, graduated from Rutgers University in 2014 with a degree in political science and journalism and media studies. He reviews healthcare information technology, call centers, document management software and employee monitoring software. In addition to his full-time position at Business News Daily and business.com, Adam freelances for several outlets. An indispensable ally of the feline race, Adam is owned by four lovely cats.