Ultimate Guide to Practice Management Software

Jamie Frew
Jamie Frew
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The importance of good management in the healthcare industry 

Working in the healthcare industry is hard. Not only are practitioners responsible for the treatment and care of patients who are often experiencing some of the most vulnerable times of their lives, but they are required to complete a wide array of other time-consuming tasks.  

Whether it is finishing documentation, scheduling appointments, chasing down unpaid payments or processing medical claims, the administrative side of a healthcare business takes up a lot of time and resources. More often than not, the importance of efficiently completing these tasks is overlooked. However, as many professionals are aware, inefficient management of these processes can have severe consequences. An unproductive workplace not only reduces the quality of care delivered to patients, but it also increases practitioners’ experience of stress. In order for healthcare providers to confidently deliver their services, they need to feel at ease in the environment they work in. The continuously increasing demand placed on the healthcare industry has led to most practices having too much work to do, and too little time.

As such, it has become more important now than ever to figure out a way to take some of the load off healthcare practitioners. Before we dive too deeply into what practice management software is and how it is fast becoming the solution to this issue, we will outline the various administrative responsibilities that can become so burdensome to healthcare business.

What exactly are the responsibilities of an administration team?

In order for a healthcare practice to sustainably function, there are certain areas of business that need to be managed effectively. The administrative team of practice is typically made up of different staff members, who oversee various areas. Whilst the specific tasks that are required to be completed by administrative staff will differ depending on the size of the practice and the services it offers, the following are some of the most common responsibilities:

Financial organization: It is important to remember that all healthcare practices are businesses, and the success of a business is almost always related to its financial condition. Healthcare practices need to ensure that they are profitable, by working closely with insurance companies and managing medical billing processes. Research has indicated that the number of claim rejections and denials is steadily increasing, demonstrating the need to have improved management of clinical documentation and coding. Additionally, healthcare practices need to ensure that their staff is being paid and that money is being spent wisely. Often, healthcare businesses will be required to purchase new equipment; as healthcare technology is continuously advancing, it is important for practitioners to be equipped with updated devices. However, most medical equipment is extremely costly, and difficult choices need to be made about what devices are worthwhile.

Human resources: Just as with any other type of company, a healthcare practice needs to have a dedicated human resources representative or team. HR is responsible for employing new staff, managing internal complaints, and implementing necessary training programs. These processes will help ensure that the business cultivates a good working environment in which open communication and positive staff relationships are encouraged. 

Healthcare operations: Whilst one-on-one appointments are typically the focus of a healthcare practice, there are a large number of processes that are constantly occurring in the background to allow these to happen. Healthcare operations refer to things like appointment scheduling, managing no-shows and last-minute cancellations, and dealing with patients. Organizing healthcare operations requires a lot of time and effective communication between patients and staff to ensure that everyone’s needs are being met.

Public relations: It is always in the best interest of a healthcare practice to acquire new patients, as more customers mean more revenue. Accordingly, most clinics will have an allocated amount of money and time that is spent on marketing strategies and email campaigns.

Legal issues: Unfortunately, working in healthcare can occasionally lead to legal issues, including malpractice suits and breaches of compliances. When these situations do occur, it is essential that they are dealt with professionally and efficiently. Additionally, there needs to be protocol in place at the practice so that any complaints or concerns that are raised internally can be appropriately investigated. 

As you can see, there is a multitude of responsibilities associated with working in the healthcare industry that aren’t related to seeing and treating patients. Realistically, most practitioners completed their studying and training driven by a desire to help people, rather than because they love doing paperwork. So how can you manage your time efficiently enough so you are able to cut down on time spent completing administrative tasks, and instead focus on seeing patients? 

The answer lies with practice management software. 

Using technology in healthcare: practice management software 

The modern healthcare industry is becoming increasingly technology-based. Developments in how technology can be utilized in different professions have led to a massive change in how healthcare services are delivered to patients. And whilst some changes may be considered frightening for people who are used to things working in a certain way, research has indicated that embracing technology is revolutionizing the way that healthcare practices are operating - in a good way! 

What is practice management software?

Practice management software refers to a system implemented into a healthcare business that is designed to assist with the various administrative tasks we listed above. As I’m sure you now know, effectively managing the day-to-day operations of a healthcare practice is a complex and time-consuming task. These processes are significantly simplified with management software, allowing your business to save time and resources that can instead be redirected towards caring for patients. 

Although the specific features offered within practice management systems differ, some of the most common includes: 

Appointment scheduling: If you have ever worked in a healthcare practice, you will know how difficult it can be to effectively organize appointments. Not only do you have to work around the schedule of each patient, but you also need to be aware of the available practitioners and the services that they offer. Appointment scheduling software streamlines this process by allowing patients to directly make their own bookings via your business website or a patient portal. You can upload the available time slots, practitioners, and services, and clients can select the session that best suits their schedule. Utilizing appointment scheduling software is a guaranteed way to save time, elevate patient satisfaction, and optimize the workflow of your practice.

Clinical documentation: Maintaining clinical documentation is a process that takes up a significant amount of time for practitioners. The common saying, “if it isn’t recorded, then it didn’t happen” governs every interaction between practitioners and patients, and most practices have strict protocols regarding documentation. Practice management systems provide clinical note templates and dictation software that allows practitioners to significantly reduce the amount of time spent writing notes, whilst still guaranteeing they are of the highest quality possible.

Storage: After clinical notes and other forms of documentation have been created, they must be stored in an organized manner, to allow for easy accessibility and transmission. Practice management software uses cloud-based technology (which we will explain shortly), meaning that any documents uploaded into the system are saved and updated in real-time. Using practice management software to store your data significantly reduces the risk of losing or misplacing important documents, and guarantees efficient organization.

Medical billing and coding: Managing the medical billing and coding processes is one of the most time-consuming aspects of operating a healthcare practice. Research has shown that the number of rejected or denied claims has begun to rise, demonstrating the importance of improving the accuracy of codes. Practice management software contains sophisticated technology that can scan medical codes and alert practitioners to any mistakes or missing information, allowing your practice to cut down on errors. Additionally, the software will track the progress of medical claims once they are submitted, ensuring the reimbursement process is as transparent as possible.

Patient portal: Practice management software is increasingly being integrated with patient portals; secure platforms where clients can access appointment and payment information. Practitioners can also choose to upload their clinical notes onto a patient’s portal, increasing the transparency of the treatment process and encouraging patients to play a more hands-on role in managing their own health. 

Telehealth: The development of sophisticated forms of technology has led to telehealth features becoming increasingly commonplace in the delivery of healthcare. Following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing regulations, healthcare providers had to adapt to new ways of delivering their services. One of the most effective methods came in the form of video conferencing. Now, practice management software integrates with secure video conference capabilities that allow practitioners and patients to connect at any time, from anywhere.

As I’m sure you can now imagine, the culmination of all of these features significantly reduces the amount of pressure put on administrative teams and allows healthcare practices to boost their productivity and organization. 

How does practice management software work: an introduction to cloud-based technology

One of the best things about practice management software is that it doesn’t require the installation of complicated hardware in your practice. Requiring only stable internet connection, practice management software can be utilized in three ways:

Desktop-only software: The system is installed onto a single desktop that a select group of people have access to.

Client-server software: The system exists on an onsite server, where it can be accessed by numerous users. The healthcare clinic has to either purchase or loan the server from a third-party company. 

Internet-based software: The software is accessed via the internet, meaning that the healthcare clinic doesn’t have to purchase or loan the server. Authorized users can access the system from anywhere, provided they have an internet connection. 

The majority of practice management systems use cloud-based technology, which refers to the use of an application over the internet. Cloud computing systems allow users to create, access, and share various documents securely. It is important to understand that storing data using a cloud system means that it exists in an external location. As a healthcare practitioner, you often deal with confidential and private information, meaning you need to ensure that the software you choose has the appropriate security protocols in place. 

Advantages of a cloud-based practice management system

Access up-to-date information 24/7: Cloud systems are accessible to authorized users 24/7, allowing practitioners to complete work remotely, provided they have access to a device. Additionally, cloud systems update any changes to data and records instantly, ensuring that new documents are automatically uploaded and saved. These features allow practitioners much greater flexibility when it comes to accessing their work and ensuring all data is constantly up-to-date.

Improved collaboration: Within the healthcare industry, there is often a need to communicate and collaborate between other providers and third parties. Cloud-based practice management systems offer the perfect solution to make collaboration as seamless as possible, given how patient records are uploaded and updated in real-time. With a cloud-based system, healthcare providers can feel confident that continuity of care is optimized and patients are receiving the highest quality of care possible. 

Paperless: Although some practitioners prefer to complete their work using more traditional, manual methods, there are definite advantages to going paperless. Firstly, hard-copy records and documents are at a much higher risk of being lost or stolen, two situations that practitioners need to avoid at all costs. An electronic system will pretty much guarantee that your data is protected and secured at all times, with the additional advantage of being highly organized and accessible.

External provider: Moving to a cloud-based practice management system means that the external provider that you use has a role in looking after your data. Whilst this may feel slightly daunting, particularly given the confidential nature of most healthcare information, it actually has various benefits. External providers are responsible for the maintenance of the technology, meaning that practices can feel confident they are using the most recent and sophisticated systems without having to complete any of their own updates. 

What type of healthcare clinics use practice management software?

There is a misconception that exists surrounding the types of healthcare businesses that qualify for emerging forms of technology. Regardless of what you may have heard, practice management systems are for any practice - no matter whether you are small, large, a start-up, or part of a massive institution. Some practice management systems have been designed with a specific-sized business in mind, so it is important to recognize this when you are doing your research. Nevertheless, given the increase in the number of systems being developed, there is undoubtedly practice management software out there that will be the perfect solution to boosting the productivity and organization of your practice.

Some of the various fields of healthcare that successfully implement practice management software include: 

  1. General practice
  2. Psychiatry
  3. Psychology
  4. Occupational therapy
  5. Therapy 
  6. Mental health counseling
  7. Counseling
  8. Physical therapy 
  9. Nursing 
  10. Chiropractor 
  11. Dentistry 
  12. Optometry
  13. Orthodontic
  14. …And many more!

The advantages of practice management software: practitioners

Often, the biggest barrier to introducing new technology and systems into a healthcare practice is fear of the unknown. If the processes that you currently have in place are adequate, you may be questioning the necessity of implementing something completely different. 

However, the benefits of practice management software are such that it would be unwise not to take full advantage of the emerging technology. Some of these benefits include:  

Workflow: Data shows that the biggest reason why healthcare companies originally implemented practice management software is due to appointment scheduling improvement. With the right system, your practice will be able to not only organize appointments more efficiently, but also significantly reduce no-shows and last-minute cancellations. Practice management software has also been designed to optimize workflow by streamlining various tasks, including clinical documentation, progress notes, scheduling, and managing patients. Reducing the amount of time that practitioners spend on administrative tasks increases the productivity of day-to-day operations and frees up more time to deliver healthcare to clients in need.

Profitability: Just like any other type of business, healthcare practices always need to keep their profitability in mind. This means that the purchase and introduction of any new type of system or technology should have an end goal of creating increased revenue for the business. Fortunately, this is just what practice management systems can do. Indirectly, the efficiency and productivity that are maximized by streamlining various administrative tasks, will free up time so that practitioners can see more patients. Additionally, by eliminating the need to have administration staff complete these tasks, practices can save money on overhead costs and other related resources. 

Billing process: Managing the billing process is one of the most complex aspects of operating a healthcare business. Studies have reported that the number of claim rejections and denials has begun to increase exponentially, indicating that it is more important now than ever to have an efficient coding and billing system in place. Practice management software is designed to verify client insurance policies, generate automated statements, and detect any errors or discrepancies within bills and claims. This latter feature is especially important for ensuring that your practice receives reimbursement promptly and avoids the possibility of rejections or denials. 

With practice management software, practitioners will find that they can redirect the time and energy that they were spending on administrative tasks into doing what they do best: delivering healthcare solutions to patients. 

The advantages of practice management software: patients 

Practice management software is not solely beneficial to practitioners. The system has been designed with patients in mind, and many of its features help to improve the general quality of care.

Communication: One of the most important factors contributing to whether or not a patient is satisfied with their healthcare treatment is related to communication. Patients want to feel as though their providers are communicating with them transparently and keeping them in the loop about their treatment and progress. Practice management systems typically come integrated with features designed to improve communication, including a patient portal. Patient portals allow clients to securely access a platform that displays appointment, payment, and treatment information. Portals also often include a secure two-way channel of communication, allowing patients to directly raise any questions or concerns with their provider.

Insurance: As I’m sure you know, the processes and protocols related to healthcare can be extremely complicated. Sometimes patients that require care are too frightened to reach out due to fears of cost. Practice management software is integrated with features that can scan and analyze a patient’s insurance policy, helping them feel more confident when it comes to accessing healthcare. 

Quality of care: Although patients may not notice the differences themselves, the truth is that practice management software will improve the general quality of healthcare. This is largely a result of reducing the amount of time that practitioners are required to spend on administrative tasks and instead allowing them to specifically focus on delivering quality care. 

practice management software

Are there disadvantages to practice management software?

You may struggle to believe that practice management software is as good as it seems. And whilst this technology does have outstanding benefits, you are right: there are also certain risks involved. 

Security: If you implement practice management software that uses cloud-based technology, there are certain risks involved in storing data online. When you are choosing a system for your practice, you must research its security protocols. Any data stored online should be encrypted and password-protected to ensure it is only accessible by authorized users. Whilst cyber-attacks and data leakages are a legitimate concern to any online system, the right security protocols should ensure these threats are minimized.

Expensive: It will come of little surprise to you that practice management software can be expensive, particularly if you require a sophisticated and multi-featured system. Fortunately, the popularity of this type of software has led to the development of more affordable options, which can be the perfect solution for start-ups or smaller businesses. Alternatively, you should consider the fact that practice management software will eventually lead to reductions in various costs for your practice. It may therefore be beneficial to front up a larger cost to begin with, given that you will save money in the long run. As always, a cost-benefit analysis should be completed to determine whether this option is viable for your business.

New technology: Introducing new technology can be scary. There may be practitioners at your business who still complete all of their work manually and don’t feel confident with electronic systems. Understandably, learning to navigate new forms of technology can be daunting, but there are ways that this can be improved. Most practice management software has been designed with these challenges in mind, so the systems are typically intuitive. Further, the majority of practices that introduce new technology usually run a training course when it is initially implemented to ensure that staff members feel comfortable navigating the system.

What is the difference between EMR and practice management systems? 

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when trying to understand practice management systems is assuming they are the same as EMR. And whilst both of these forms of technology have overlapping features, their primary function differs. 

EMR (electronic medical records) 

EMR is a sophisticated tool that healthcare practices use to store and organize data and records. The information stored on an EMR system is a digitized version of a medical chart, meaning it includes treatment histories, medications, prescriptions, tests, and lab results. EMR systems are a widely used method of managing the storage of documents. They allow patient information to be easily accessed and analyzed, improving efficiency and inter-provider collaboration.

Practice Management Software

Although practice management software also has similar storage capabilities, the system is much more targeted towards a variety of healthcare processes. Practice management software combines several different digital tools to produce a system designed to streamline administrative tasks associated with operating a healthcare business (including clinical documentation, appointment scheduling, medical billing and coding, and general patient management). 

So whilst both of these systems have capabilities designed to streamline administrative tasks, EMR focuses specifically on storing patient records whereas practice management software aims to improve the operations of a healthcare practice. 

Finding the right practice management software for you 

What should you look for in a practice management system?

Now that you know exactly how a practice management system will benefit you and your patients, you might be interested in introducing one to your business. Whilst this is an exciting transition, there are a few key things you should be aware of. The exact features included within your management software will largely depend upon the size of your practice and the types of services you offer, however, there are certain functions that we believe to be the most important:

Appointment scheduling features and reminders: As we mentioned previously, wanting to improve appointment scheduling systems is one of the biggest reasons why healthcare practices decide to implement practice management software. One of the most important requirements for practice management systems is the inclusion of automated appointment reminders, as dealing with no-shows is an unfortunate aspect of operating a healthcare business that can harm workflow, patient care and lead to a loss in revenue. Automated appointment reminders work to reduce these occurrences by sending out email and text reminders to patients before their upcoming bookings. 

Patient record management and tracking: Even if you already have a good EHR system in place at your practice, finding management software that has sophisticated patient record tracking features will prove highly advantageous. In the healthcare industry, there are a significant amount of records related to patient encounters that need to be documented; including progress notes, medical history, medications, treatment plans, lab results, and insurance policies. Practice management systems offer a centralized database on which all of these documents can be stored, allowing practitioners to access the most up-to-date information regarding their patient’s health. Additionally, good practice management software will be integrated with the ability to analyze a patient’s personal insurance policy and estimate out-of-pocket expenses for the practice and copayments.

Clinical documents and records: We have already explained the benefits associated with having a centralized database on which clinical documents and records can be stored, particularly when using cloud-based technology. It is in your best interest to ensure that the practice management software that you choose has unlimited storage capabilities, is updated in real-time, and can be accessed by authorized users from any device. The best practice management systems also offer features that are designed to help practitioners create documentation. Staying on top of documentation and paperwork is one of the most time-consuming aspects of working as a healthcare professional, so introducing a system that is integrated with note templates, voice dictation, and report analysis software will help you stay on top of your workload.

Security protocols: Last, but certainly not least, you need to ensure that the practice management software you select has strong security regulations and protocols in place. When a healthcare company uses an external provider to store their patient data, they need to enter into a Business Associate Agreement. This contract determines the responsibilities of the provider in handling and storing private health information (PHI) and is a requirement of HIPAA guidelines. In addition to signing a BAA, you should spend some time researching the general security protocols of the provider. As a healthcare practice, it is your responsibility to ensure that any PHI in your system is secured and protected from unauthorized access. 

How to choose a practice management software

At the end of the day, most practice management software includes the features we mentioned above. Given that there has been a recent surge in the number of systems available, you may be needing more advice on how to narrow your options. To help ensure you choose the perfect solution for your practice, there are five criteria you should keep in mind. 

Cost: The cost of practice management systems vary significantly, depending on the type of features you require and the general size of your practice. Some software will advertise their baseline price, without mentioning additional costs required to access certain features, a marketing scheme you should be aware of. 

Typically, practice management software requires a monthly payment that will grant you access to certain features. This may vary from anywhere between USD $100 to $1000 per provider per month. One of the benefits of practice management systems is they don’t require the installation of specialty hardware into your clinic, saving you a significant amount of money. 

At the end of the day, your budget will be the biggest determining factor for what software you eventually select. Nevertheless, you should approach each vendor with a clear idea in mind of what specific features you require. Fortunately, the rising popularity of practice management software means that there will be a suitable (and affordable) option for you, regardless of your financial budget. 

Specialty: Although there are many crossovers between the different fields in healthcare, the specific requirements of a certain specialty may not be appropriately reflected in general practice management software. When approaching a potential vendor, you should assess whether they have clients working in the same field as you. Reaching out to colleagues of the same specialization is also a good way to determine the type of practice management software that will work best for your business.

Ease of use: We mentioned previously that one of the biggest drawbacks to introducing practice management software is the necessity of learning new technology. If your practitioners aren’t confident with the system, they will struggle to use it to its full advantage and optimal productivity won’t be achieved. Practice management software should be intuitive and easy to use, allowing even those with minimal technical experience to quickly become experts. Realistically, any new system will initially reduce productivity, but with a little practice, your practitioners should be able to navigate the system effectively.

Training: Most practice management vendors offer comprehensive training programs when they sign a new client. This is the most effective way of ensuring that every staff member has at least a basic understanding of how to navigate the system. Training may be offered in-person or online, and you should have the option of one-on-one or group sessions. Mandating training for all staff members will elevate everyone’s confidence and minimize the initial phase of decreased productivity. 

Support: Having a good support team is an essential element of any practice management vendor. Unfortunately, there is a high chance that you will eventually encounter some sort of problem, concern, or query regarding the software. When these situations do arise, the vendor must have a support team available to assess and respond to the issue. A good way to determine the vendor’s support protocols is by reading reviews left by their other clients. The healthcare industry is extremely fast-paced so any vendor you use must have a functional support team able to quickly resolve issues. 

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Different practice management software options 

As we mentioned previously, the popularity of practice management software has led to a surge in the number of suitable options available. Although we recommend you do your own research into the different systems, we have compiled a quick summary of some of the most popular software options: 

Carepatron: Carepatron offers a fully integrated practice management software that includes appointment scheduling, medical billing, online payments, and clinical documentation features. The system is HIPAA-compliant, guaranteeing that all patient data is managed in a secure and protected way. Carepatron is a perfect option for start-ups and small to medium-sized businesses, with two affordable pricing plans. 

Simple Practice: Simple Practice is a popular option for a range of different healthcare businesses, with a management system that has a focus on introducing telehealth features. Simple Practice allows practitioners to manage the administrative side of operations whilst delivering their healthcare services remotely. Some of their features include scheduling, billing, documentation, and insurance. The software has three different pricing plans that include various features, depending on the requirements of your business.

NextGen Healthcare: NextGen Healthcare is a practice management solution that has options suitable for both small and large healthcare businesses. The software operates on cloud-based technology, with features designed to improve financial management, patient engagement, and general clinical care.

Greenway Health: Greenway Health’s practice management solution aims to streamline necessary administrative tasks with the centralized billing and patient information management. The system greatly simplifies the claims process, helping to ensure that the rate of rejections and denials is minimized and your business is reimbursed in a timely manner.

As you can see, the majority of practice management systems contain similar features, all designed to streamline the administrative processes required to successfully operate a healthcare business. We suggest you do some further research into the specific functions of potential vendors and ascertain whether they are a suitable option for you.

Trends in practice management software 

Following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent physical distancing restrictions, the healthcare industry was required to adapt to new ways of delivering its services. And whilst telehealth and practice management solutions were in use prior to the pandemic, the market size saw a massive surge during this time. 

The heavy burden that was placed on healthcare businesses and the increase in the number of patients requiring care, particularly in the mental health field, meant that there was a greater need to reduce the time spent on administrative tasks. And as you now know, practice management software is one of the best ways to achieve this. 

As cloud-based technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated, we are seeing a greater number of healthcare practices utilizing these systems to their advantage. The amount of time and resources saved by practices using this software has been the biggest driving force for the growth of the market. In fact, Grand View Research, Inc reported that the global market size of practice management software is expected to reach US 17.6 billion by 2024, indicating the extent to which the industry is growing. 

Continuous advancements in health-related technology also predict that the type of software that is currently in use may change in the near future. Firstly, we are seeing an increase in the use of artificial intelligence (AI), particularly in the form of chat boxes. If you think about the different websites that you have accessed over the past year, the chances are they were integrated with an automated chat box. Artificial intelligence also contains a lot of promise in the way of interoperability. Most healthcare practices are currently using at least one type of electronic system, and introducing methods of integrating these will allow for better collaboration and communication. 

We are also witnessing a massive shift towards mobile solutions. Although mobile technology has its own space within the healthcare industry, a lot of the time these features are integrated within practice management software. The systems come with a mobile app that commonly contains appointment scheduling, online payment, video conferencing, and direct messaging features. This shift to mobile health has allowed a wider range of patients to access the healthcare they need, all whilst improving the general state of remote care. 

The future trends of practice management software and the technology used in healthcare indicate an extremely exciting change. Embracing and taking full advantage of this shift will undoubtedly be advantageous for patients and practitioners alike.

What should you do now?

We have just about covered all of the basics surrounding practice management software - what it is, who uses it, and how to find the best option for your practice. Right now, you might be wondering what comes next and you have a few options. Whilst the purpose of us writing this guide is merely to help you consolidate your understanding, we sincerely believe it is in your best interest to adopt a practice management system, regardless of what type of healthcare you work in. 

We’ve provided you with tips regarding the types of features you should be on the lookout for, and this knowledge should be enough to help you find the perfect option. With practice management software, you will be able to save significant amounts of time and resources that are otherwise spent completing administrative tasks - and this extra time can be spent improving the delivery of your healthcare services. 

Moving to new technology is daunting, particularly given the responsibility you have as a healthcare professional in regards to looking after your patients. Nevertheless, the research and feedback produced on the effects of practice management software show only good things. With that in mind, we recommend you begin the process of researching and assessing available systems and once you find the right fit, it’s time to take the leap!

One Practice Management app to replace them all: Try Carepatron for free today

Practice management software

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