We know that one of the single biggest challenges in establishing your medical practice is deciding on what Medical Practice Software to choose.
This decision can make or break a practice.
Speak to colleagues and get independent advice
Software vendors will spruik their product’s highlights, but getting information on comparative features can be difficult. The bewildering number of options sometimes obscures the most important considerations of; RELIABILITY, COST, FUTURE PROOFING, TRAINING REQUIREMENTS, SECURITY and MOBILITY.
A Decision Making Pathway
Do you need medical practice software?
The answer to this question is always yes.
Paper based practices are unreliable, difficult to audit and cost more to run compared to electronic practices. Online billing submissions, accounting integration for BAS statements and Medicare audit requirements are likely to make paper-based practices non-compliant in the near future.
Local based server or cloud service?
A cloud based solution has the advantage of reduced hardware costs, more straight forward software updating and more modern software architecture. This usually gives greater reliability, integration options and speed. Cloud based software does not have the track record of server based programs and in some minds this raises some doubt about security. Even so, issues with data security are scarce in the cloud options. However, the versatility of access on different devices, in different locations is a big attraction for many. Reliable hardwired internet access, wi-fi or mobile internet is an absolute requirement.
Good servers are required to run good software for good user experience
Local servers (computer in the practice) do give some doctors peace-of-mind and have the advantage reliable processing speed that is not dependent on internet speeds. This can allow for rapid transfer of images and data from devices to the software (think retinal photography or MRI scans). This peace-of-mind can give false security however, as local based servers still require maintenance and a secure back-up schedule. Anything less than an off-site back-up to a geographically separate machine probably does not meet minimum requirements for data security. We recommend that scheduled maintenance and back-up is provided by a contractor (IT service) rather than inadvertently being missed by accident or corrupted by technically unaware staff. Local servers may have limited off-site functionality depending on the quality of the server and the internet speed on site.
A number of vendors have products that operate from the cloud only. There are also server based software packages that can be hosted in the cloud (terminal server) and configured to be accessed from multiple different sites. The ‘old-school’ vendors have very good, and mature products that operate well on local servers but may have restrictions when attempting to use over multiple sites.
Understand the internet speed that is available at your practice while deciding
What is the growth potential of the practice?
The available Medial Practice Software programs differ in their capacity to expand, and have different licencing rules about the number and types of users who can access the software. If a practice is expected to change size in the future, then capabilities for multiple users over multiple sites needs to guaranteed. Further consideration should be given to the capabilities of the software to block or allow information flow between users. For example: patient privacy concerns with different practitioners sharing software; openly available financial information shared between practitioners.
Consideration must be given to the capacity of the software to allow and formulate separate data extraction for doctors who leave the practice.
How versatile is the administrative back-end?
Understand back-end processes & seek opinions from experienced admin users
While the medical desk top and appointment book may be the only interaction that doctors ever have with their software, there is usually a very important team behind the scenes working with the same software infrastructure. If the interface or administration processes are slow then staff efficiency is compromised. This increases costs and errors.
Workflows for administration tasks (e.g. invoicing, batching and submitting bills, banking) and processes (e.g. taking appointments, scanning letters, filing faxes, editing letters) vary substantially between different software packages. We have recorded as much as a 60% difference in administration time between well-known Medical Practice Software programs. Translated into staff costs, that may mean an additional $30k per year difference for a single doctor practice.
The gold standard is integration with accounting software packages, for accurate and accessible reconciliation and financial reporting.
What security and privacy standards are met?
Know what you’re buying – it’ll be with you for a long time
The Australian Privacy Principals outline some of the basic requirements of handling people’s medical information. Reasonable steps must be taken to protect health information from misuse, loss, unauthorized access, modification and disclosure. Password protection, modern firewall and up to date virus protection are mandatory. Offsite data backup is required and should be monitored, checked and audited to meet these requirements.
A guarantee about the safety of the software architecture should be sought from the vendor. You should be certain about the commitment to development and maintenance to ensure that ongoing access and usability of your software and database is guaranteed.
What is the development history and pipeline for the software?
If the software vendor you are dealing with cannot guarantee that the program will be able to work on computers in 15 years time, choose something else.
Database design has substantially changed and evolved over the past 10 years. So it can be predicted that bigger changes will emerge going forward. Inevitable change needs resources and planning, and your vendor should be able to confidently outline these plans.
Make sure your vendor is dynamic when it comes to development and seek evidence of future proofing of their product.
What are the establishment costs?
Starting with Medical Practice Software should be seen as a long term game. Expect it to take time
What is the cost of the software AND then what is the cost of the hardware to meet your for safety, security and usability standards (outlined above).
Seek expert IT costing for server purchase/hire, server maintenance, internet access, back-up scheduling in addition to the cost price of the software program
What are the ongoing costs?
Understand the licencing and maintenance costs per user for the software. Do not make the mistake of under-investing in user licences. Often several secretaries may need to simultaneously access your software to provide timely transcription or patient management.
What are the training and support costs?
If you have new staff, temporary staff or new doctors joining, how much does it cost to have formal training?
Of the hundreds of practices we have worked with, every single one has required IT support or Help Desk Support to some degree during and after the process of setting up. Treat software purchasing as a long term project that requires time and effort to understand the nuances, strengths and pitfalls. Support for this process usually costs money, but often translates into efficiency gains, and therefore lower costs and less fraud of loss.
Why Hoxton MPM?
Expert independent advice
We work with a number of different software packages, and within our group we have expertise that covers more than 20 different clinical systems.
We have a high level of understanding of these packages from the clinicians perspective and from the administrative back end.
We would be pleased to discuss your requirements and the options available. We can make recommendations and introductions to vendors and Medical Specialist IT companies.