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It's difficult to know where to start when selecting the best software for your practice.  With dozens of selections to choose from, making the right choice can be a daunting task.  For new or established practices looking to implement or upgrade software into their practices, there are some general need-to-know details that will help better prepare you for evaluating and choosing the software program best suited for your needs.

Software companies have sales representatives that you may have communicated with to learn some of the features of a particular program.  One key thing to keep in mind is that sales representatives, while necessary and usually very informative, generally have one primary goal in mind...to make a sale.  While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, keep in mind that YOU are ultimately responsible for the decision of which software to purchase.  No sales rep will know your practice's needs as well as you.  One  obstacle that practices sometimes encounter, is being "sold" and then discovering afterward that the choice made was in fact not the best one for the practice. 

Software is an investment, with all-inclusive software programs costing thousands of dollars.  While the investment is necessary and worthwhile, owners/providers aren't usually going to be willing to make that investment very often.  Unlike some things where if a mistake is made, you simply try again, it isn't that simple if the mistake is software.  In addition to the financial investment, the investment of time is something to consider as well.  There is a learning curve with software, necessary training and a normal loss of productivity early on while providers and teams learn the ropes with the new program.  To prevent unnecessary loss of time or inefficiency in systems, this too must be taken into consideration when making a software selection.

Software is vitally important to your practice, being one of the primary components of a solid foundation for practice structure and growth.  Many office systems and procedures are designed by, or even sometimes dictated by, the capabilities and limitations of software.  Fortunately, many software programs now have advanced customization features that really do allow a practice the ability to make alterations or improvements that are best suited to them.  After all, most practices aren't exactly the same and there are different preferences, needs and ideas that doctors and staff have in mind for their own practice functionality and efficiency. 

The first step when making a software selection is really to decide what YOU need and want.  It isn't necessary to have a crystal clear vision of this, but a general idea will likely save you time and possibly money as well.  Note also that this doesn't mean just you, the doctor or owner, this means the entire practice.  Every person that uses or will be using the software in the practice should have input.  This will help to determine from several angles what the specific software needs are for the practice.  The following steps are designed to be conducted efficiently while helping practices make an educated decision on their choice of software.  With your team, discuss and make note of the following items to have a more clear vision of the needs and interests of your practice when it comes to software.

Establish Your General Criteria

1.  Why are you upgrading or implementing software?

  • Examples may include:  EHR, Billing, Reporting/Stats, inefficiency in current software, etc.

2.  What features are needed and wanted in a new software program?

  • Examples of needs may include:  Ability to schedule for multiple providers, ease in documenting required treatment detail as well as wellness/alternative, billing and tracking logs to more efficiently monitor and maintain insurance follow-up and receivables, etc.
  • Examples of wants may include:  Touch screen/ipad compatibility, instant messaging system for employee communication, online patient portal for forms to be filled out in advance, etc.
  • Consider separating needs and wants into columns to better ensure that needs are met first, though both must be taken into consideration.
  • Consider and make note of what features the practice's current software has that is desired or necessary to have in the new software.  An example may be that the current software has a very robust stats keeping system and you would like to have an equivalent or better feature in the new software.
  • Consider any known features in your current software that cause inefficiency or extra work.  This will help to identify additional wants and needs in a new software.

 3.  What is your software budget?

  • Note that you may find the need for some flexibility in this area.  However, having a general range that you are willing or able to spend may be very helpful in narrowing down your final choices for software or determining which features are necessary to have and which can wait.

4.  Do you have any current software candidates?

  • If so, log down the name and website for each.  Spend some time reviewing the website to become more familiar with the software.  Make note of features you like and want to learn more about and questions you have for each.
  • If not, or if you would just like recommendations from others, reach out to peers or trusted affiliates for their recommendations.  Ask questions such as what they recommend and why.  Also ask if there is anything about the software being recommended that they would like to see improved.

When reviewing and discussing the 4 basic steps above, be sure to consider each department in the practice.  As discussed previously, software does change systems for nearly every person in every department.  Consider as well some general duties that are conducted such as reactivation systems, accounts receivable management, patient billing and collections, product and inventory tracking, tracking of treatment plans, etc., so as to be as clear as possible regarding the practice expectations for a new software.

Contact the Candidates

1.  Contact each of the software companies that the practice has listed as a candidate. 

  • Begin by asking any questions that you may have listed from the steps above.  Give the sales representative the time to provide any additional information that may be helpful to you. 
  • Ask if there are any current sales or specials as this may help to determine when your final decision may need to be made.  Most sales reps offer this information immediately but not always.  You may find that your practice is able to save some money just by simply asking.
  • Schedule a demo.  Doctors and staff should be in attendance of the demo session.  If this isn't possible, more than one demo may need to be scheduled.  It is important for anyone that will be using the software to see the functions and features as it pertains to his/her role.  All staff members are encouraged to ask questions and make notes of pros, cons, questions and uncertainties as the software is demonstrated.  Use this opportunity to inquire about your wants and needs established from the steps above.  This is also your opportunity to discuss cost and pricing.
  • Note that software is generally quite comprehensive and more than one demo may need to be scheduled in order to thoroughly view the working components of the software.  This may include:  documentation, data entry, billing, payment posting, stats keeping, and others.  If another demo is necessary, schedule it now.
  • Consider asking for references that your practice might follow-up with. 

Tip 1:  When inquiring about or discussing a feature of the software, sales reps may hurriedly often say, "Yes, the software can do that."  Don't just take their word for it but ask them to show you.  It isn't to suggest that you would be misled, but rather to suggest that it is important that you see the working functions of the software.  After all, you wouldn't buy a car without giving it a test drive and being comfortable with what's under the hood.

Tip 2:  Inquire about the cost of tech support, upgrades and storage.  Note too that software may require the practice to update hardware (computers, hard drives, etc).  If this is the case, gather information and make note of recommended computer brands, necessary memory capacity and any other needs or devices that may be necessary or beneficial for your practice if using this software.  Collect information on estimated expense of these items as well.

Tip 3:  If the software is cloud based, inquire of the location of the server where your data will be stored.  While software programs today have to meet strict guidelines for HIPAA and compliance, cloud storage is still occasionally outsourced overseas.  It is important for compliance purposes to ensure that your patient data be stored in the United States. 

2.  Compare Candidates once all initial demos are complete.

  • As a team, review the findings, features, pros and cons of each software demonstrated. Consider preferences, questions or concerns from each individual. 
  • Prior to making a commitment, any lingering questions or concerns should be resolved.  This may require a conversation with a sales representative or likely a short demo. 
  • For customization purposes, many software programs have multiple features.  Some come with the software and some may be added expenses.  Consider those features which will absolutely be used and will likely be used by the practice to avoid the possibility of over-purchasing.  Additional features can always be added later if it is determined they are needed or would be used.

3.  Consider the practice systems.

      As noted at the beginning of this guide, software is one of the most important components to the practice.  The final step prior to making an official decision on software is to carefully consider how each candidate will fit among the current practice  systems.  What will be made more efficient?  What may be less efficient and what other steps may need to be implemented to avoid oversight or error of necessary duties?  Which  tasks may take more time to complete correctly with the new software?  What adjustments might the practice need to make in order to minimize overwhelm, error or loss of productivity?

      Finally, make a decision of the best software for the practice and begin the process of training and integration.  Be patient during this process as it does take time.  Be proactive about resolving uncertainties and reaching out to software tech support and/or training materials when questions arise.

Author: 
Brandy Brimhall