Meeting core business challenges with health care software
It’s not just financial success that suffers when an organization is slowed by inefficiencies and unnecessary overhead expense. Without strong financial stewardship, it’s impossible for care-givers to fully focus on their core competencies, more difficult to attract and maintain top talent, and a chore to manage access to the data needed to properly diagnose and treat patients.
Health care software packages are helping medical practices to meet some of their toughest business challenges, like:
- Ensuring financial visibility and accountability,
- Managing sensitive information for GAAP, Sarbanes-Oxley, and HIPAA compliance, and
- Reducing instances of administrative inefficiency.
Finding the right software for your health care organization
Selecting the right IS resources to manage your health-care organization can be a daunting task though. Certainly, much is at stake and the decisions regarding which software is purchased will have long-term effects. The good news is that the software industry has responded with a wealth of different program options designed to meet your organization’s unique requirements.
One of the most basic questions facing health care organizations is whether to invest in a comprehensive health care ERP package or to pair task-specific applications with a strong accounting back-end.
A comprehensive program can offer some compelling advantages. A single system, inclusive of both practice/hospital management and accounting features, provides an integrated environment that’s often easier to learn and support. On the other hand, adding task-specific software to a strong accounting platform may allow your organization to leverage existing investments and lower the upfront capital costs associated with building a strong set of software resources. Further, the upside of selecting highly specialized applications may outweigh the downside of having to manage sometimes complex program integrations.
Another challenge of investing wisely in health-care software is simply finding the right software for your type of operation. What amounts to the right solution will depend greatly on whether you’re looking to meet the needs of a large health care network, a single practice office, a hospital, an assisted-living facility, or a clinic. Understanding the component functionalities available and how they can improve your organization is a key step to selecting the right software.
Health care specific software
Looking at the specialized software designed particularly for the health care industry is a good place to start when considering your options. The functionality described below can be found in both standalone modules, as well as components of larger full health care ERP solutions.
Electronic medical records (EMR). Health care work presents an enormous data challenge. A major part of the data of course arises in the form of patient medical records. Electronic medical records software (EMR) provides an automated, digital method of managing patient records designed to improve clinical workflows. An EMR module handles everything from the basics (contact info, for instance) to the complex (SOAP notes, medications, lab results, and beyond). The ability to have a consolidated repository for medical records provides a number of advantages including access control and security (HIPAA compliance), improved ability to reference medical histories, and an efficient method for allowing quicker and more accurate diagnoses and treatment resolutions.
Electronic health records (EHR). EHR is often used fairly interchangably with EMR. There are subtle technical differences, though. EHR generally connotes a more comprehensive health record bringing together data from a range of health care providers (for instance, dental, medical, and psychiatric). Additionally, patient accessibility—often provided through online access—is another hallmark of EHR solutions.
Medical billing. Perhaps no industry faces such a complex task when it comes to billing as does the health care vertical. Managing for multiple payers and the claims process sets the ante high. Handling coding, approvals and rejections, 3rd party clearing houses, and eligibility verifications only raises the stakes. A strong medical billing module provides an invaluable asset in terms of billing Medicare, Medicaid, insurance companies, and patients. Medical billing automation is not solely a matter of increasing efficiencies. It’s also a critical part of improving cash flow and the overall patient experience.
Materials management and inventory control. Inventory control is a part of many industry-neutral accounting packages. Health care organizations have some specific requirements though. The ability to increase charge capture (billing for items used in treatment) is an overlooked source for overhead cost reduction in medical organizations. Automation tools such as bar-coding and RFID can increase the ease with which inventory is managed and improve charge capture. Dealing with perishable medications is another unique element of medical materials management. Features such as lot and expiration tracking are not only fiscally advantageous, they provide an important safety related role.
Business software functionality for the health care organization
Accounting packages provide many core business accounting and operational functionalities. As noted previously, they are often used in conjunction with the more specialized applications covered above, though, they may also be integrated with practice management (EMR, medical billing) features in a single comprehensive ERP package.
General ledger. To employ a biological metaphor, the general ledger is effectively the brain within the central nervous system of your financial management software. The general ledger consolidates data from sub-ledgers to provide the definitive, top-level accounting record. Essentially, it is responsible for organizing the structure of accounts in a way that allows for real-time analysis overall organizational financial performance. The ability to keep a complete and accurate audit trail at the general ledger level is particularly important in a highly regulated industry, such as health care. The general ledger provides key reports such as balance sheets (asset and liability tracking) and financial statements (expenses and revenues) allowing your organization to make sound financial decisions.
Multi-entity consolidation, departmental reporting, and fund accounting.
Health care organizations often have complex ownership structures, and very frequently there are multiple corporate entities to manage. Robust functionality and flexibility at the general ledger level is required to manage more complex corporate structures. The ability to create hierarchical account or cost center divisions is a key functionality, especially for health care providers offering a variety of services or working out of multiple locations. For non-profit health care organizations fund accounting capabilities are an important reporting mechanism.
Accounts payable and purchasing. Effective cash management relies on intelligent accounts payable processing. Accounts payable modules handle the dispersal of payments to vendors. Advanced cash management features include the ability to optimize payments. This can be accomplished through a variety of means including by keeping cash in earning positions until payment dates arrive, reducing errors and late payments, and even taking advantage of economies of scale through batched orders or early payment discounts. Electronic payment methods such as electronic funds transfers (EFT) are helping organizations to manage their payables with lower processing costs and improved reliability. Complete purchasing systems provide the ability to manage large-scale purchasing consistently and with the appropriate approvals and control. Reporting features can improve vendor management and demand calculation. Automation features such as automatic purchasing based on inventory thresholds can further improve efficiency.
Human resources and payroll. Human resources modules can help you control labor costs, align your human resources strategically, and manage talent. A complete, health care HR module will handle a variety of different tasks from managing hiring to administering benefits. Performance evaluation tools are especially important in larger organizations. In the health care arena certifications and training of care-givers represent an additional layer of complexity in terms of managing human resources. HR systems are designed to simplify this complexity. Payroll modules provide the ability to both process payroll disbursements and handle the related tax reporting.
Budgeting. Budgeting modules provide a mechanism to discipline your organizations approach to spending and identify likely revenue results. For smaller organizations a critical moment of growth in financial management is often the moment when spreadsheet budgeting is left behind in favor of more robust budgeting capabilities. Versioning, what-if scenarios, and management of multiple user access all represent important areas of improvement supplied by budgeting specific modules.
Business intelligence and reporting. Business intelligence solutions provide a way to sort through a vast amount of enterprise data and turn it into actionable business intelligence. For organizations looking to spot areas for cost savings and to identify growth opportunities, they are becoming an increasingly popular tool. Contemporary BI solutions are focusing with increasing precision on determining the right way to convey a large amount of information very quickly. Consequently, a variety of graphical presentations and dashboards are available. Another trend is the increasing flexibility to track non-financial data. For instance, bed utilization or care types can be tracked, or established as dimensions to track costs along. Traditional report writer tools still provide deep access to databases to fish out specific reporting information that may not be available in pre-built, standard reports. Templating and report creation wizards are popular approaches to increasing the efficiency with which reports can be generated.
Taking the next steps
If you are at the point where you’d like to discover which health care software options are best for your organization, we can help. Through a brief phone call, our software specialists will look to better understand your business and software needs to help you locate a handful of solutions that can address the issues you are currently experiencing. Get started today!