Medical practice management software is a healthcare IT tool that can help improve the operations of your office, from appointment-setting and provider-scheduling to revenue cycle management (RCM). Practice management software includes features like patient registration and insurance eligibility verification that feed into the clinical data collected by your electronic medical record (EMR) software, so the two need to work together seamlessly. Good software will boost your practice's quality of care, customer service, record-keeping and operational efficiency.
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Choosing the best practice management software for your medical practice can be a difficult task. There are a lot of vendors in the space, and multiple considerations, including pricing, features, interoperability and tech support, each factor significantly into whether the software will help or hinder your office. Choosing wisely is critical. To that end, we've selected the best solutions on the market to help you decide.
Trends to Watch in 2019
The primary trend in the practice management software industry is its continued growth, which is expected to continue unabated at least through 2023. The projected compound annual growth rate of the practice management market, according to a study from Research N Reports, is a healthy 9 percent worldwide. That growth will largely be driven by continued demand for advanced technology, a global shift toward digitized healthcare products and expanded access to smart grid technology in developing economies.
Promoting Interoperability Standards Will Drive Updates
In countries where healthcare IT products are already well established, vendors are expected to develop updates or new iterations of their products that are more interoperable with other solutions on the market. In the U.S., for example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will launching Stage 3 of the Promoting Interoperability initiative.
Previously known as the Meaningful Use program, Promoting Interoperability requires medical practices to adopt healthcare IT products that conform to certain standards and objectives or face a reimbursement penalty on the physician fee schedule. Healthcare providers should ensure their current solutions are capable of meeting Stage 3 standards; if not, they should consider upgrading to a more interoperable system to avoid incurring reimbursement penalties.
Medical practice management software varies in price depending on whether you purchase it as standalone software or as part of a healthcare IT suite. Some companies offer multiple pricing tiers depending on the level of service you need, while others offer a flat rate. Most vendors will quote you a price that takes into account the size of your practice and the scope of the implementation.
Practice management software, much like EMR software, is typically based on a per-provider, per-month model, meaning you pay a monthly rate multiplied by the number of providers at your practice. Among the software we reviewed, prices ranged from as low as $80 per month, per provider to as high as $800 per month, per provider.
Practice Management Software vs. EMR Software
There is, understandably, confusion surrounding medical practice management software and electronic medical record (EMR) software. The two are closely related but are independent applications.
Medical practice management software should be thought of as the primary tool used by a practice's office staff. It organizes documentation, specifically surrounding billing and scheduling. The software completes tasks like patient insurance eligibility verification and accepts patient co-payments through patient portals.
Electronic health records (EHR) or EMR systems, on the other hand, are generally a physician's primary tool. These systems help healthcare providers document clinical encounters with patients, order tests and prescriptions, and track patient health trends over time.
The confusion between these two software solutions comes from the fact that they must work closely together. Naturally, the clinical documentation of a patient encounter flows directly into the billing cycle managed by the front office. To accurately submit claims and follow up on denials, the office must have access to data stored in the practice's EMR system about what services the physician provided during the visit. This is just one example of why practice management software and EMR software work in tandem.
As a result, many practice management software vendors also offer EMR solutions. Some solutions are automatically integrated with EMR software; others are not. In instances where the application you're considering is a standalone practice management solution, it's imperative that you ensure the software can adequately communicate with your existing EMR platform (or whichever EMR application you choose). As you can see, a lot goes into the decision as to which software solution a medical practice will choose.
What to Look for in Practice Management Software
The best medical practice management software offers an all-inclusive package where you can handle billing, scheduling, insurance eligibility, track claims and create customizable templates that suit your practice's workflows. Most importantly, though, it should be easy for the entire office to use. To reduce your office staff's workload, the software should include a patient portal where patients can schedule appointments online.
It's also important to have solid integrations, including those for credit card processing, ordering labs and e-prescribing. The billing software should easily integrate with EMR software so you don't have to seek outside help in using the two applications.
The implementation and integration phase can be time-consuming and costly, especially if something goes wrong, so you'll want to be sure that your practice management and EMR systems are compatible.
When considering specific software programs to integrate into your practice, look for applications that can fully handle all office responsibilities – scheduling, billing, task management – as well as provide great security and support resources.
Here's more about the specific features you'll want to look for.
There are four major administrative features to look for when seeking out a practice management application.
- Automated appointment reminders: Does the software let you automate patient appointment reminders so your staff doesn't spend hours contacting patients and reminding them about upcoming appointments? In addition to this feature, check whether the application gives you several options – email, text message, phone call – about how you can send reminders.
- A patient portal: The software should have an online portal that lets patients access their account so they can edit their own information, see their balance and make payments online. This reduces your workload, because a patient can preregister or modify their address or credit card information without calling the office or taking up valuable staff time by doing it in person.
- Check-in and insurance verification: With a good practice management application, staff should be able to quickly check patients in, verify their insurance, determine the patient's co-pay and collect payment at the time of service.
- Document scanning: Does the application let you scan and store documents within the system, freeing your staff from unnecessary paperwork? Is it easy to locate documents in the system?
A good practice management system helps with both your practice's administrative and financial requirements. It should make collecting payments and filing insurance claims as easy as possible for your staff while using the fewest resources.
Further, software should have the ability to scrub claims for errors, so you don't waste resources appealing denied claims and incur further delays in being paid.
Coding and Medical Record Integration
Most practice management software has an EMR counterpart that integrates directly with the software. Some companies only sell both software options as a complete suite, while others let you choose what you need.
If you already have an EMR system and don't want to switch, look for companies that partner with common EMRs and can integrate their software with your current EMR system. You may want to consider partnering with the same vendor who provides your EMR system if you're satisfied with your current software.
While not all practice management and EMR systems are compatible, all solutions should follow basic safety and privacy standards. They should comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations.
Support and Hosting
Because medical practice management software is vital to your daily operations, the software manufacturer should offer support that conforms to your practice's schedule and needs. You should have access to live support or a ticketing system so any issues you are experiencing with the software can be quickly resolved.
As powerful as many medical office software applications are, you may still want separate software for medical billing. Medical transcription services are still in demand for many practices. And if you choose a medical practice management software that lets you choose EHR/EMR software from another company, you can start your search for the best EHR software here.
State of the Industry
Much like EMR software, practice management software is increasingly adopted both to comply with government regulations encouraging or mandating the digitization of healthcare industries worldwide, as well as to improve patient outcomes and data accessibility. These trends have driven market growth and are expected to continue to do so as more practices, hospitals, and other points of care increasingly adopt digital solutions for their healthcare record-keeping and business processes.
According to Grand View Research, the global practice management system market size was $6.9 billion in 2015. That figure is projected to reach $17.6 billion by 2024, representing a healthy compound annual growth rate of nearly 11 percent. Grand View Research's data shows that more than two-thirds of the market is made up of integrated practice management and EMR software while the remainder includes standalone software solutions. Among the major vendors in the practice management space are Allscripts, Greenway, GE, athenahealth and NextGen.
To determine our best picks for practice management software, we started with 34 vendors. We evaluated the pricing, billing, scheduling and financial reporting features of each application as well as user reviews before eliminating some of the companies on our list.
After further investigation, we narrowed our list to 11 companies: AdvancedMD Inc., Advanced Data Systems, Athenahealth, CareCloud, Drchrono, Greenway, GroupOne Health, iSalus Healthcare, Kareo, MDConnection and NueMD.
We then evaluated each software application on the following:
- Ease of use
- Estimated cost
- Staff training
- Implementation support
- Billing features
- Scheduling features
- Customization of the software
- Inclusion of a patient portal
- Availability of a mobile application
- Financial reporting and analysis tools
In addition, we assessed the customer service of each of our finalists. We called each vendor posing as a startup medical practice seeking a comprehensive, cost-effective solution. We evaluated each vendor on how quickly they responded to our inquiry, their attentiveness, the follow-up they provided, including whether they allowed us to test out the software as well as additional materials and resources they provided that would be helpful for a medical practice deciding which practice management solution they should invest in.