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5 Steps to Selecting a Practice Management System


Cost will be a factor in selecting a practice management system, but it shouldn't be the only one.

The practice management system market is poised to reach $247.1 million by 2018, according to a Markets and Markets research report. With all advances in practice management system software available, physician practices are facing major investments.  

Some may be reluctant to buy into a new practice management system though. Robert Tennant, Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) Director, Health Information Technology recalls a response from one physician when he asked about the cost of a practice management system. The response, "Every dollar I spend comes out of my children's college funds." 

With the investment also comes opportunity to provide better patient care as healthcare transitions from volume to value, according to Heather McComas, AMA director of administrative simplification initiatives. "Some of today's systems align both the business and clinical sides of the practice," adds Gwendolyn Lohse, managing director, of the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH) and the Committee on Operating Rules for Information and Exchange (CORE)

With cost as one of the factors in selecting a practice management system, here are five steps to assist in selecting the "right" system for your practice:

Step 1:  Select an assessment team and create a roadmap

The team should include essential clinical and non-clinical employees.  The purpose of the team is to create a roadmap of the patient experience. "Think about your experience with patients from beginning to end – from the minute the patient calls in to patient billing and collections – and everything in between," explains McComas.

The roadmap serves as a worksheet for categorizing and prioritizing the workflow.

Step 2:  Designate which functions can be automated

This includes such administrative functions as billing and collections, claims submission, and patient scheduling. In addition, consideration should also be given to clinical functions, which would require the system's integration with the EHR software.

Notes Tennant, "Automation can help reduce errors and costs." It also saves time. Lohse reports that some providers can be assured that practice management systems that are Phase I or II CAQH CORE Certified (meet certain operating requirements regarding the exchange of healthcare information) can produce information about patient insurance eligibility, co-pay, deductibles, etc. in 20 seconds or less. Overall in the industry, "The shift from manual to electronic administrative transactions can save more than $9.4 billion each year and hundreds of administrative hours when addressing challenges like chasing down bad debit," says Lohse.

Step 3:  Network with boots on the ground

Once the roadmap is completed and approved, it is time to research and compare software. McComas refers to this phase as "networking with boots on the ground," explaining that this is the stage for connecting with your peers to find out what has been working for them. Both McComas and Tennant also suggest reaching out to associations, which offer seminars and networking opportunities.

Step 4:  Create a Request for Proposal (RFP)

"Because of all the variabilities in software, an RFP helps the vendor provide you with the system that is the best fit for your practice," explains Tennant. "It also lets you compare apples to apples." An RFP lets the vendor know your practice needs and which software can best fulfill those needs.

Tennant adds that the RFP should also contain information about your practice, including size and specialty. It also allows you to provide more direction to your vendor as well as ask questions, such as staff training processes and costs and typical schedule of software updates provided as part of the contract.

Based on your practice, assign a rating scale on which functionality is:

• Essential

• Nice to have

• Not necessary

Step 5:  Selection Process

Once the RFPs have been returned, the assessment team should reconvene and review the information. The team should weigh system features, opportunities, and costs that will impact the practice.  For example:

1. Does it have the basic features needed?

2. Does it have the advanced features needed? (i.e. integration with electronic health records)

3. Is it intuitive for staff usage?

4. Does it meet HIPAA security and administrative simplification requirements?

5. Do upgrades require your practice to purchase a new version of the system?

Once a decision is made, establish a timeline that includes installation and staff training.

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