How do I select a Practice Management Software
I am an owner/therapist with the daunting task of selecting a Practice Management Software (PMS) for my company, a decision I have been putting off for a few years. Proposals solicited by my staff have prices ranging from $30-55 per user/month, with some systems requiring a server ($1500-3000) while others don’t. What advice do you have?
Selecting a good Practice Management Software is an important decision that will impact on your company for years to come. I can write extensively on this question, but let’s start from the top, with the platform options.
Case and Practice Management software come in two basic options: On-premise application or a web based solution. On-premise solutions have been around since the 1990s and are continuously being replaced by more flexible web based systems.
On-premise Practice Management Software
An on-premise application is loaded on to a server located within your clinic.
In addition to the PMS software, you must invest in a server, data services (storage, data backup, and disaster recovery), maintenance and security (firewall and anti-virus). You also have the crucial responsibility for keeping your server and PMS software up-to-date.
PMS vendors who market on-premise applications argue that it gives you control over your data. While this claim is relatively factual, you cannot copy out your data or use it outside of the PMS solution. If your server or drive dies or you wish to use a different system, the only way to access your data is to have it migrated out of the old system in a usable format.
The drawback of this system is that it limits your access from outside of the clinic. Some vendors have resorted to log-me-in programs but these have many limitations, may expose your system and can be difficult to work with. Today, fewer new on-premise applications are being developed today, as developers transition to more flexible hosted solutions.
The cost of an on-premise application must include your server acquisition and setup, data services, security and maintenance costs. These costs are in addition to your licenses’ costs.
Web based Practice Management Software.
A web based solution is hosted on a server located in a secured data centre such as an IBM or Rogers data centre. Most vendors provide a 99.9% up-time guarantee, meaning that the chances of your PMS going down is almost nil. The system relies on internet connectivity, but so do most internet phones, e-commerce applications and businesses.
Web based Practice Management Software are packaged as a service bundle that includes hardware, software, data services, security. All maintenance, updates, daily data backups are handled by the vendor. There are no servers or software to install and maintain.
PMS vendors who market web based applications argue that it allows you to work from anywhere at anytime, with secured access to your data. Additionally, web based applications are ideal for small to mid-sized companies who do not have an in-house technical staff.
Unlike an on-premise application, web based solutions cost less to get started and bundles your cost into a single monthly or annual cost.
Selecting the right platform for your company
On-premise or web-based? Deciding which is best suited for your operation can be challenging. Here are five additional considerations to ponder and which may help to answer the question.
Where will your therapists work from, now and in the future? Are you running a clinical operation where all your therapists work in the clinic? Would you like to have the flexibility to work on your clients’ file when you are away from the clinic or from home? Do you have a second location or plan to add a second location?
Service Options – What are the service options you would like to have from your vendor?
Data migration – your data is your business intelligence gathered over many years. Keep it if you can afford to.
Customization – Some software companies offer an out-of-the-box PMS solution with a one-size-fits-all approach. Is your company the same as your competitor? If not, a customizable software is better suited. Customization provides additional options and removes the noise from the software and makes it simpler.
Training – Proper training in the use of a software is critical to its efficient use. Be wary of companies that charge you for training. Look for companies with unlimited training.
Support – Getting the support when you need it is important. Every company provide some level of support for their software. However, some companies provides prompt support with a live person answering the phone while others take hours or days to return your call or respond to your email.
No two software are the same. What are the critical software functionality and features you need to manage your business effectively? I encourage you to develop a checklist detailing the Practice Management Software features and functionalities to consider in product selection. You may classify these into must have, should have, and nice to have.
The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is a concept developed by the Gartner Group to help managers make more informed financial decisions about software investments. Rather than just looking at the license fee, TCO looks all of the direct and indirect costs.
License Fees are License costs are either charged upfront or bundled into monthly charges.
Training cost is the ongoing cost associated with training (i) end users to use the software effective; (ii) administrative users to manage and maintain the software. Some companies charge for training while others include it in the licenses’ fees.
Customization charges are paid by companies wishing to have the solution modified to align more closely with its business needs. These costs vary depending on the level of customization and the complexity of the organization and software.
Implementation cost is a one-time charge to setup and configure the application to support your business needs. Some vendors charge an installation fee while others include this cost into a monthly.
Equipment cost includes: hardware, operating software, equipment maintenance, upgrades, back-up and disaster recovery costs. Typically, your server and associated equipment are upgraded every 4-5 years. By comparison, when you acquire a web based solution, equipment cost and maintenance costs are packaged into one single price.
Invisible cost is the most misunderstood cost, mostly due to its hidden nature. No two software applications are alike in features, ease-of-use and productivity. Each extra minute endured in processing your files represents an added cost to your business. These extra minutes should be considered in calculating your overall costs. For instance, if you software do not track HCAI plans automatically, you must pay someone to do it manually.
MVA and HCAI billing
HCAI is a time-consuming system. Time is money. If you service clients in Ontario and do any MVA billing through the HCAI system, selecting a system is integrated with HCAI. HCAI tracking is a critical time saver.
An integrated HCAI software saves time (less data entry & improved accuracy) and keeps all your records in one place.
An HCAI software with plan and line-item tracks the line-item balances of your plans. Otherwise you will find yourself having to maintain an added tracking sheet for every plan you work on.
I have seen companies that spend many long hours and weekends every month billing HCAI.
Arrange a demo
After you have decided on the platform, arrange a demo(s) and have a look at the product and features. Use your PMS features and functionalities’ checklist. Ask questions, as many as you can. Some Practice Management Software vendors offer a free trial. While a free trial of the software has its advantages, it can be a frustrating experience. It’s like taking a car for a test drive when you have never driven a car before. A demo allows you to take a guided tour while drilling down on any feature of interest.
Get a proper license’ agreement
Whether you choose an on-premise or web based solution, securing a proper license agreement is just good business practice. From time to time, you may need your vendor’s assistance to make changes to your system or assist you with resolving an issue that requires you to delegate access to your computer and clients’ files. A good agreement does not tie your hands but protect your rights and your clients’ files.
Do your homework. Look at all the considerations and decide on a platform. I encourage you to consider all the costs: Equipment, implementation, training, support, Licensing and invisible costs. For larger companies that are guided by Return on Investment (ROI) or Internal Rate of Return (IRR) in assessing its software investments, the TOC concept is equally applicable.
Technology is an enabling tool that supports your critical business needs. It helps with your compliance and management of your clients, in a big way. Investing in the right technology gives your business a comparative advantage. Alternatively, Investing in people to compensate for an inefficient software or manual system is a poor business decision that costs you money, loads of it every month. The longer you hold on to your old technology or manual system, the more it costs you in labour charges and lost advantages. Don’t put off the inevitable!
Call me if you need help or have a comment!
Practice Management Software