Which software program is best for me? This is a common question that I am asked by many allied health professionals, and the honest answer is there is not one that is best for all. We are starting to see the development of great software now for allied health professionals and the wonderful thing about this is the software programs are easily accessible, affordable and easy to navigate – many “plusses” for busy people!
Sometimes people will ask me should they invest in a software program to manage their patient billing, consults and correspondence, or just continue to use paper files, or Word documents. The latter may seem easier than launching a new software program, but there are many benefits to having a software program with some intuitive features. One of the biggest benefits to launching a patient software program in your practice is that it provides efficiency. This is a must. Times are busy. We are busy. Clients are busy. Creating efficiencies in various places in our practices can save time and ultimately save money. It can also enhance the experience for the client. They want to know the practice they are using is organised, on time, and that their information is secure. One of my favourite things about my practice software is it allows me the ability to gather statistics very easily and quickly which saves me a large amount of time. I can look up things like how many clients came in a particular week, how many new clients I see compared to follow-up appointments, where the majority of income occurs (which consults are most profitable), how many people did not attend their appointments, how many people I see a year on the Chronic Disease Management plan (or other funded programs), and which doctors have referred to me lately.
Before you launch into a software program, there are some things that you need to consider. Firstly, everyone learns differently. Some of us are visual learners and like to see things to understand them. Others are auditory learners, and find visuals distracting when learning. Some of us like to have a go at tasks ourselves because we learn better that way. This concept applies when we are learning about how any new technology in our practice.
If you have a team, make sure that each of your team members learns how to utilise the features of the software program well. It may be too optimistic to show them a written manual and expect there to be instant magic! Training may need to also happen face to face, using images, step by step guides, or checklists. Planning the training needs of your staff is a good starting point.
Secondly, no matter which platform you intend on using, you will need to dedicate time to setting it up. This does take time. You will need to ‘tell’ your software what item codes you bill your clients, what your provider number is, what the names of your consultations are (e.g. long, short, complex), and you will need to set up what you want your letter head to look like on an invoice, and when you write a letter. This can take longer than you think depending on the software program that you choose. It is worth asking firstly which ones will help you set that up for you. Remember to make sure then it is set up the way you want. Does the letter head look good from a branding point of view? It is important when we consider any new platform or tool into our practice that it matches the branding we are striving for.
Thirdly, you need to consider your practice – what do you need from a software program? Don’t just get a particular one because you were talking to another practitioner at an event, or a workshop and that is what they use! What do you want it to do for you? How do you want it to create efficiency in your practice? Does letter writing hold you back currently – therefore a program with a great letter writing capacity will be very helpful. Do you write lengthy reports that need particular formatting? In this case a program that allows you to customise a report writing template would be very helpful. Do you have different sites you work from, or are a travelling practitioner on the road a lot? Then a program that has an app for easy log in on the go is most likely helpful. Finding the right software program for your practice takes a little bit of research. Grab your diary, and add in some time for you to research the programs on the market and their features that match what you might be interested in.
The fourth thing to think about is how you might get your existing client information into the new software program, if that is what you prefer to do. This would mean all your information is in one place going forward. It can help things to be efficient when finding client information. If you are moving from a paper based system to an electronic software program, you need to think about whether you want to just archive the paper files you have created somewhere accessible and secure, so you can access them if you need them. The other option would be to scan the files and add them to your new software program, so they become part of the one system. This second option is a great choice if you think it is likely you will need to access the information from the paper files on a regular basis. If not, and you will most likely never need to look at it much at all, it might not be worth the time and effort to scan them all on. When it comes to scanning files into a new program, consider who will do this? Does that person have time to do that task? Trial a couple of files first and see how long it takes. Can this be outsourced to a reputable and trustworthy person who can do that for you? If you are moving from one electronic software program to another, then again you need to decide if you will merge the files from the old program across to the new. Most programs will allow you to do this manually, or you may choose to ask the new program developers if they can transfer the files across. Sounds simple? Yes and no. If will depend on which program you are transferring from. Each program has its own way of storing your consult notes, letters and scanned documents and they might not be compatible with the next program you choose to use. In these cases, the new program developers might need to write additional code to transfer your files across. If you are switching from one electronic software program to another, then it is well worth asking if they have converted files before and what the process and costs are for this.
Trial things out first:
One of the best things you can do is contact the software suppliers that you think are going to match your needs well, and ask them for a trial version of the software. You can then look at it and see how it runs, if you like how it appears, and how easy the functions are to use. The trial versions are often free, and most run for 30 days. They do not have your client information on there, so they are secure. What they offer is an area to ‘play’ on so you get used to the program.
What do others think?
I have already mentioned not launching into a software program just because someone else does. This is important. However, do not ignore the thoughts of others who might have similar practices to you or a similar client base. It is well worth asking other practices which program they use, what do they like about it, and what don’t they like about it.
What to ask?
Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know! I have been there before. I never knew what to ask my first software program supplier as I had never been in that position before. From memory I think I just asked what it cost and was it suitable for occupational therapists! When you are starting to look at different software programs and compare, some questions to be asking yourself or the supplier include the following:
- Can it be mobile (available on a tablet), if that suits you? Is this an additional cost?
- How is the data backed up and protected? What happens with cloud based data if it gets hacked? What happens with cloud based data if the internet goes down? Will your information still be there?
- Are there access restrictions for different staff members? Do you want your junior staff members having access to the practice statistics, or being able to delete information from your system? Most programs will allow you to set up different access levels for staff. Some programs have this as being highly customisable, and others just have 1-2 options.
- Are you paying for features you don’t need? (this can often happen in programs that are not designed with allied health in mind). If you choose a program that is designed for surgeons, you might find that you are paying for features such as theatre booking abilities, script writing functions, and pre-entered Medicare codes for surgeries.
- Can you customise forms and letter templates to suit your practice? Will they be customised in a way that matches your brand?
- Does it send out SMS (text message) reminders to clients? How much do these cost in addition to the software?
- Will it cope with an expanding practice? If you add more practitioners, will the cost increase? Can it manage if you decided to open another practice site?
- Is it compatible with NDIS, Medicare, DVA, or other funding bodies that are applicable to your practice?
- Does it link with your accounting software program? (for example: Xero, or MYOB). Most practice software programs are designed to store information about your clients, including referral letters, consult notes, billing information, and other correspondence. It allows you to bill clients, or third parties for your services. Most of them do not track your expenses, for example how much petrol you purchased this month, or room rental, or electricity, or phone bills. These will be recorded in your accounting program. Most practice software programs also do not include functions for payroll. These again, are managed in your accounting software program.
- If you are transferring from another software company, can they upload that data, and what will it cost? How long will it take?
- If you decide to leave one day, how can you take your data with you and what will that cost?
- What is the cost? Is it an annual fee, or is there a monthly fee? How can it be paid (credit card, direct debit or pay on invoice)?
- What support and training is available? Can someone come to your practice and help set up, or is help available on the phone? Can you call all day every day if you are in a panic, or do you only get a certain amount of phone calls to the support team that you can make a year.
- Does it have functions to book clients into ‘groups’ if you run any group programs or classes?
After all this, it is important to remember that there is not one perfect software platform! If there was, we would all be on the same one! The thing you need to work out is which one is best for your needs now, and in the future. Try to think about where your practice might be headed and where you see yourself in 3, 5, 10 years’ time. This can help you work out which features might be best for you. The great thing about this space is that there are many developers constantly working on updating and improving their platform, so they are getting more efficient, more intuitive, and easier to use.
To help you decide and work through the above list, I have started the process off for you with a comparison table of common allied health patient software programs!