Medical practice management software is an essential tool that helps medical practices manage their appointments, stay engaged with patients, conduct billing and track financial performance. In other words, medical practice management software covers the entirety of a practice's administrative operations, helping the front and back offices to complete their tasks with greater efficiency and transparency. This guide includes information on what to look for when choosing a medical practice management software, as well as our reviews and best picks of some leading solutions.
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What to Expect in 2020
The primary trend in the practice management software industry is its ongoing growth, which is expected to continue unabated through at least 2023.
The projected compound annual growth rate of the practice management market, according to a study from Research N Reports, is a healthy 9% 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, practice management software companies will develop updates or new iterations of their products that are more interoperable with other solutions. In the U.S., for example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will launch 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. If they don't, practices must pay 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 is also designed to integrate with electronic medical records (EMR) systems, creating a holistic view of practice operations, from administrative to clinical. This integration is invaluable, helping staff to pull clinical information relevant to billing, for example, or to schedule recurring appointments for patients with chronic conditions.
In addition, medical practice management software provides a window into third-party activities related to billing when a practice is outsourcing its revenue cycle management to a medical billing company. Because many EMR and practice management software companies offer medical billing services, staff can review their performance and keep tabs on outstanding claims directly in the same software.
If you are looking for a tool to streamline your medical practice's day-to-day operations and provide more data-driven insights into how your practice is performing, medical practice management software could help.
Medical practice management software's price depends on whether you purchase it as stand-alone 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 charge a flat rate. Most vendors will quote you a price that considers the size of your practice and the scope of implementation.
Practice management software, much like EMR software, is typically priced 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 $200 to $1,000 a month per provider.
Practice Management Software vs. EMR Software
There is, understandably, confusion surrounding medical practice management software and electronic medical records (EMR) software. The two are closely related but independent applications.
Medical practice management software is 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 copayments 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 how practice management software and EMR software work in tandem.
As a result, many practice management software vendors also offer EMR solutions. Some solutions automatically integrate with EMR software; others do not. If the application you're considering is a stand-alone practice management solution, you must ensure the software can adequately communicate with your EMR platform.
Key Features of Medical Practice Management Software
The best medical practice management software offers an all-inclusive package where you can handle billing, schedule appointments, check insurance eligibility, track claims and create customizable templates that suit your practice's workflows. Most importantly, it should be easy for the entire office to use. To reduce your office staff's workload, the software should include a 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 to use the two applications in tandem.
The implementation and integration phase can be time-consuming and costly, especially if something goes wrong, so make sure that your practice management and EMR systems are compatible.
When considering specific software to integrate with your practice, look for applications that can fully handle all office responsibilities – scheduling, billing, task management – and also 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 in 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 to remind them about upcoming appointments? Also see if the application gives you several options – email, text message and phone call – for sending reminders.
- A patient portal: The software should have an online portal that lets patients access their account to edit their own information, see their balances 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: Your staff should be able to quickly check patients in, verify their insurance, determine the copay 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, the software should be able to scrub claims for errors so you don't waste resources appealing denied claims and incur further delays in payment.
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 that 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. At a minimum, 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 manufacturer should offer support that conforms to your practice's schedule and needs. You should have access to live support or a ticketing system to quickly resolve any issues you experience with the software.
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. If your medical practice management software 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 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 adopt digital solutions for their healthcare recordkeeping 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%. Grand View Research's data shows that integrated practice management and EMR software make up more than two-thirds of the market, while the remainder includes stand-alone 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 a list of dozens of 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 down to nine companies: AdvancedMD, Advanced Data Systems, athenahealth, CareCloud, DrChrono, eClinicalWorks, Greenway Health, Kareo and NextGen.
We then evaluated each software application on these factors:
- 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
We also assessed the customer service of each of our finalists. We called each company posing as a startup medical practice seeking a comprehensive, cost-effective practice management solution. We evaluated the companies on how quickly they responded to our inquiries, their attentiveness, the follow-up they provided, whether they allowed us to test out the software, and any additional materials or resources they provided that would be helpful for a medical practice deciding which practice management solution they should invest in.