In today’s information age, businesses are focusing on digitizing operations wherever possible. Independent medical practices, clinics, and healthcare organizations are no different. Electronic patient records, schedules, billing information, clearinghouse submissions, and claims are all available. An efficient office can use these tools to operate with minimal (if any) paper usage.
Care providers use EHR (Electronic Health Records) systems to manage patients. They maintain symptoms, diagnoses, and prescriptions. Electronic record-keeping supports seamless transfers of information between organizations. The ultimate goal is to provide better care for patients.
Administrative support and billing staff use Practice Management (PM) systems. PM software should include functions to schedule appointments and check insurance eligibility. The software then bills and submits claims to all different payers and guarantors. Finally, it ensures follow-up on any pending or rejected payments.
EHR and Practice Management software systems come bundled together or as separate suites. A bundle package may sound like an efficient concept. Yet there are several reasons to keep the two unique software programs separate.
Specialization: Get the best of both worlds
There are valid reasons to keep doctors and bookkeepers as two independent positions. They serve two very different essential functions, with very different skill sets. A patient would not ask a medical biller for a diagnosis. And, a biller will get accurate claims processed faster than most physicians. Well-run organizations use both to take advantage of what each brings to the table. They are masters of one specialty.
Software works on the same principle. EHR packages can be excellent at many things. This encompasses recording medical history, prescription conflicts, and detecting symptom trends over time. In contrast, PM systems should be efficient at different tasks. These include scheduling appointments, assessing insurance coverage, and maintaining claims awaiting payment. Both specialties are complex and nuanced. By utilizing different software suites, practices get the best exclusive features of both. Organizations reap the benefits of getting two experts, instead of one “jack-of-all-trades.”
Integration: No need for extra work
Efficiency is necessary for the long-term survival of any medical practice. Different roles operate on their own, with each contributing to the collective whole. The front desk checks a patient in; a nurse takes vitals; the doctor provides service. Finally, the biller processes the back-end claims and payments. Redundancy is unnecessary. Each professional operates on their own. Yet, they still work together to complete the patient experience. The whole team communicates to ensure smooth transitions and the best patient experience.
A practice’s software systems should operate in the same manner. They should execute their purposes but stay in sync by communicating vital information. Today’s integration capabilities end the need to repeat tasks. There are standards like HL7 (Health Level Seven International). Data migration between systems should be seamless. Providers enter symptoms and diagnoses into their EHR program. Then practice managers should accept the data, code it, and prepare it for claims and/or billing in the PM system.
Some software companies can be stubborn about other products’ compatibility with their own. Decision-makers should always ensure full integration before agreeing to a new system. This helps to avoid any conflicts. Practices don’t have to miss a beat by selecting different EHR and PM software. A solid integration leads to smooth sailing!
Flexibility: Providers get the EHR and managers the PM
Most care providers and office management staff approach day-to-day operations from different perspectives. In some cases, the physicians are decision-makers for the business. They select their EHR of preference and all other staff must adapt. Sometimes the roles reverse. The office teams pick the PM that best fits their needs. The providers then have to accept whichever EHR accompanies it. Why can’t both get to choose?
Physicians and practitioners should use the software they are most comfortable with. It keeps focus on providing patient-centric care, not on fumbling their way through an EMR. The system should serve as an assistant and tool, not as an obstacle.
In the same way, office staff and billers should use the software they are most comfortable with. It keeps their focus on efficiency, accuracy, and their goal: getting the office paid. Timely payments and accurate claim submissions are critical. Without them, a clinic can not stay in business.
With two different systems, there is no need for any party to compromise. A doctor will always select a scalpel over a cheap plastic knife. A medical biller will always prefer a computer over a scratchpad and calculator. Neither role should limit the needs of the other. Practices should choose the best EHR for the medical staff and the best PM software for the office staff. This way, every employee gets the best tools for their role.
Security: Don’t put every egg into one basket
Personal computing became popular back in the 90s and early 2000s. During that time, everyone learned a valuable lesson: backup important information. Electronic information is even more vital today. Thus, always store critical data in more than one place. For small businesses, 10% of all data loss is attributed to software failure.
Backups are a bit like fire extinguishers in that everyone needs them and never wants to use them. While better than losing all data, restoring from a backup is not profitable. The process of reconstructing data is time-consuming. It can slow down or even stop operations.
The solution is to use separate software. This helps practices reduce the burden of downtimes, shutdowns, and waiting for restorations. Both systems should allow for manual data entry at any time. If an EHR crashes, record medical information offline. All other operations proceed, business as usual. Suppose the PM glitches, document any medical billing codes and services provided. Later, enter any written records into the appropriate programs. Instead of all systems grinding to a halt, only some details would need offline records. Downtimes for a well-scheduled and busy practice mean a potential loss of revenue.
In conclusion: A symbiotic relationship
By implementing two separate systems for EHR and PM, practices reap the benefits of both. They receive expert software suites that specialize in performing their dedicated tasks. Specialization almost always outperforms generalization. Modern integration allows for the different systems to work together. This eliminates the most significant potential downside of using different programs. Care providers and office staff are both equipped with the software that suits them best. Different roles get the best tools to do their jobs. Organizations also prevent potential shutdowns if things ever go awry. As a worst-case scenario, it’s better to have some systems go down instead of all systems.
Medical practices and billing companies must make careful software decisions. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for everyone. The best package for one clinic may not be the best choice for a different practice. Consequences can linger and changing systems forever is inefficient.
Package deals can appear to have some appeal. It can seem logical for one software suite to run an entire business end-to-end. There are clear-cut benefits to the specialization of systems and keeping them separate. The symbiotic relationship between a good EHR and a solid PM gives an edge in data management.