The following are some topics to consider when evaluating the option of making a change:
Is your existing vendor still in business or were they sold to a new vendor?
Large software distributors are purchasing other companies to gain their software source code while some are simply going out of business. A majority of the time, the product that was purchased is shelved within a year or two. Many are limited and product enhancements cannot be made.
Do you want to create a best of breed solution or get all your software from one vendor? Some software distributors provide award-winning software applications while being staunchly proprietary where only the company’s other software and peripherals will interact with the application. Can your current PMS integrate with an EMR system, Claims Management system, hospitals and labs easily and at what cost? Can you transfer data to other applications easily such as Microsoft Word or Excel?
Did your existing vendor deliver what he promised or were you misled?
Are you getting sufficient support from the existing vendor or are they inadequate and non-responsive? Paying a yearly service contract to your provider does not guarantee prompt service or an appropriate solution. Some service contracts require you to “take a number” and wait for the vendor to return your call, regardless of the current state of your system. Is the vendor supportive and understanding of your needs as a practice?
Are the costs involved in maintaining the existing system including hardware, upgrades, support changes and staff training very expensive?
Do you continually add on functionality via modules at an extra cost or is additional functionality included at no cost via your support and maintenance dollars?
Does the product utilize newer technologies?
Technology changes at a rampant pace and newer products use this technology when creating systems. For example, many newer systems use industry-standard relational databases such as Oracle and SQL Server for easier reporting and efficiency. Windows applications are giving way to browser applications while system architectures are becoming in-tiered with easier integration, security and scalability.
Is an ASP (Internet Application Solution Provider) product better for you than a turnkey solution where you own and maintain the server/software?
Does the product really address the nuances of your specialty, size and workflow?
Each practice has a different set of steps to accomplish their work flow requirements. Choosing a software that addresses all of your daily needs while understanding its weaknesses is vital to service a larger patient load. A medical office is like any other business in that its purpose is to produce a profit while discovering ways to increase efficiency. Does your existing system provide the reports you need to manage your practice or are you spending too much time trying to create custom reports? Can your staff access insurance or medical websites to verify insurance or check claims status?
These are just some of the topics and issues to consider when evaluating whether to change software vendors or continue with your existing system.
2. Facts about choosing the right software package
Choosing a PMS or an EMR first
Before you chose a Practice Management System (PMS) you should first think about the Electronic Medical Records System (EMR); even if it is not in your immediate plans. It’s more difficult to find a strong EMR that will satisfy all the doctors in your practice than it is to find a strong PMS. The worst-case scenario for your practice is to choose a PMS that might be good but offers a second-rate EMR. Implementing such a system might complicate integration with a different EMR in the future.
Integrated package or best bread packages
Dealing with a single software vendor simplifies responsibility factors and getting assistance when something doesn’t work. In addition, it lowers cost of ownership because you are paying maintenance to a single vendor. Any integrated software package built around a core system does offer advantages. Its component programs can use a common logic to communicate back and forth with a common database, reducing processing time and opportunities for error. Its uniform look and feel at all workstations simplifies staff training. On the other hand, many integrated packages may have a good EMR but a second rate PMS or vice-versa, so it is important to be aware of this issue and weigh your options while making your choice.
The system should allow for flexible workflow; features and functionality are no longer the only main concerns as a selection criteria. The system should support workflow that creates levels of efficiency and generates high levels of return on investment (ROI). In addition, it is very important to ensure that the new software package will improve and not “break” your current processes. In many cases practices follow a set of processes that are very unique to them.
A sensible, low-cost way for cash-strapped small practices to acquire a physician practice management system (PPMS) is to contract with an application service provider (ASP). With an ASP, the software that manages your data, as well as the data itself, resides on a computer owned and operated by the vendor. Because you’re buying time on the vendor’s server, your own hardware costs can be kept low (i.e., in the ASP model, you need only the “client” workstations, not the server). More importantly, the vendor provides all IT support–security safeguards, interfaces with payers, troubleshooting and automatically upgrades as needed.
Some practices maintain they’ll save money by owning the software they run. More often, doctors simply don’t like having their practice’s vital data residing at some distant location and being fully dependant on a third party to manage their data. In addition, having the ability to access your data would be fully dependant on the state of your internet connection. You run the risk of losing all access to your data when the internet is down. Also, uploading or downloading scanned documents tends to be time consuming, affecting productivity.
The software selection process revolves around the software features. Some features may be mandatory, others may be optional. Typically, the number of available features is proportional to the software license cost.
Taking Advantage of the software features
ROI depends largely on whether your practice is flexible enough to take advantage of all the features the software offers. We have seen in many instances practices utilizing very expensive and advanced software packages at 30% of their capabilities.
In our experience there are typically two reasons for that:
First, regardless of how well the software performs it’s tasks, if your staff is not trained properly and not focused on making the project successful, you will not be taking full advantage of the software; hence wasting money.
Second, many of the software features may sound great in theory, but may become too time consuming or impractical to use while in a busy operating environment.
3. What to expect from your staff after the conversion
A new software implementation is often easier with a new practice versus a currently operating practice with many well established patients. Typically, the staff in a new practice is more receptive to a fresh work flow and associated work processes because they have not became accustomed to one system that they have used for many years. With new practices, you don’t have the concerns about migrating your current patient database that has been faithfully built and maintained since the practice has opened.
Converting an operating practice from one software to another is more complicated. The practice will typically first have to migrate their current patient demographic data and in some cases scan and import current patient charts. These necessary procedures create fears of data integrity issues and complete loss of information that might be relevant at a later point in time. This is also a time of frustration for your staff as they have to learn new keyboard shortcuts, additional options and data-entry procedures. There may be a general state of confusion for the first couple of weeks while they are learning the software.
4. Before you spend your money
Once you have identified your favorite software package, we strongly suggest the practice install it and have a professional consultant test and train your staff in the work environment. Software demos and sales speeches are sometimes deceiving because you only hear the benefits for your practice, not the shortcomings of the software. Testing in a real production environment is the only way to insure that your practice is getting what it needs to perform at its peak.