The case for integrated medical practice management software
In the real-world, the dividing line between the clinical and administrative “sides” of a medical office is fuzzy and frequently crossed. The rise of integrated medical practice management software represents an acknowledgment of this reality, as well as an attempt to provide a cohesive solution to the technological challenges of medical care in the digital age.
The net ambition of medical practice management suites is to keep your practice organized, efficient, and effective. For some businesses that ambition might take the specific shape of bringing order to a chaotic waiting room, relieving primary providers of tedious administrative responsibilities, or moving closer to the dream of a paperless office.
But no matter your office’s individual aspirations, choosing the right practice management product means finding a solution that will help:
- Ensure the receipt of revenues in a more efficient and profitable manner,
- Improve the overall patient experience through more reliable service and better communication,
- And, ultimately, minimize the administrative challenges that stand in the way of delivering the best possible health outcomes to as many patients as possible.
There’s a wide array of practice management products commercially available. Selecting the right one requires an understanding of both the specific features and functionalities available to your firm and the improvements they can help provide.
Electronic medical records (EMR)
There was a time when the software that supported clinical tasks and administrative functions existed independently from each other.
While individual applications which focus exclusively on each element are still available, the trend in medical practice management software has been towards convergence. Integrating electronic medical records (EMR) functionality with other “business-side” applications helps alleviate system integration headaches and increase efficiency and accuracy by minimizing the need for duplicate data entry.
Charting capabilities are at the heart of EMR software. But today’s EMR software goes far beyond the basic charting functionality required to transcribe document diagnoses and procedures.
Contemporary EMR software provides a variety of features to help providers more quickly and accurately provide the necessary care for patients. Voice dictation, diagnosis and procedural coding databases, visual patient medical timelines, and health plan creation tools are becoming commonplace.
But finding the right EMR software is not solely about locating the software with the broadest set of provided features. It’s important that the software matches provider workflow preferences. Despite the complexity of the tasks related to managing clinical patient data, many of the top practice management solutions offer the ability to significantly customize workflows in order to promote efficiency and minimize learning curves.
Scheduling and appointment management
Without a firm grip on scheduling, it’s impossible to optimize patient throughput and consequently your office’s true revenue potential. But as anyone who has managed health care scheduling can attest, getting it right is more complicated than it sounds.
Scheduling patient visits involves coordinating availabilities across multiple dimensions. Finding common openings in the schedules of patients and providers is hard enough. But many providers also find themselves needing to ensure the availability of support staff, visiting rooms, and even equipment.
Given the complexity of health care scheduling, programs that work well for general purpose applications often lack the features required for a medical environment. Advanced features that can help meet the needs of health care providers include:
- Check-in/check-out management
- Support for recurring appointments
- Overbooking capabilities
- Filterable views to isolate schedules by provider, room, or appointment attributes
- And, automated alerts, reminders, and notifications.
Managing appointment and visit information is a cornerstone of patient communication. But increasingly patients are also demanding expanded access to their medical records. (This popular Ted Talk from 2010 discusses the trend and also the health benefits it can help promote.)
Providers interested in meeting increasing patient demand for medical info face multiple challenges.
One issue is that medical data isn’t known for its readability by the layperson. Converting jargon, coding, and shorthand isn’t a task that most medical practices have typically budgeted time to accomplish. Medical practice management software offers an efficient alternative by providing an automated approach for turning technical records into health management plans and reports into formats that are more digestible for patients.
There’s also the question of how to best share health data with patients. Practice management systems offer utilities for this challenge as well in the form of automated email communication and even online patient portals.
Claims management and medical billing
Few industries have as complicated a path to compensation as the medical industry. Because patients, private insurance companies, and public entities each may be payers, the amount of documentation and activity involved in capturing revenue is significant.
Health care providers contend with another difficulty unique to their industry. Medical care charges are often an unexpected and unbudgeted consumer expense. As a result, medical costs lead to a high number of collection issues. A 2014 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated that 52% of the items appearing on credit reports are medical related. The same study concluded that 19.4% of American consumers have a late or uncollected medical bill appearing on their credit report.
Write-offs of bad debt in the double digit percentages are not uncommon for medical practices.
Claims management and medical billing functionality is designed to shorten the length of AR cycles and minimize the number of instances of uncompensated care.
Medical billing software provides standardized workflows and automation features for managing:
- Eligibility checks
- Co-pay collection
- Claims submissions to billing clearinghouses or insurance providers
- Patient billing statements
- And collections activities.
Additionally, advanced features such as error-detection for claims submissions, automated collections communication management, and AR aging related can not only decrease the labor cost involved in billing, but also boost revenue by reducing instances of uncompensated care.
Other considerations when purchasing medical practice management software
- User permissions. Access control is key to data security. With high stakes not only because of the standard business need for fraud prevention, but also because of HIPAA regulations, the ability to set user permissions plays an important role in medical practice management software. Depending on your situation, how granularly you need to set user permissions may affect which product is right for you.
- Customization. Every medical practice is different. And, convincing doctors and other care givers to change their practices to adapt to new software isn’t likely to be a popular or fruitful campaign. The ability to add fields, manage approvals, and configure workflows within your practice management solution is important to ensuring it is embraced by the user community.
- Deployment. For health care organizations uninterested in dealing with the hassle of maintaining IT hardware and support personnel, there are hosted SaaS options available, in addition to traditional client/server choices.
- Mobile. Expectations of anytime, anywhere communication have extended into the health-care industry just like any other vertical. Many medical practice management solutions now support mobile interfaces to allow providers to manage their schedule, approve prescriptions, and conduct a variety of other tasks while out of the office.