These days, everyone should use a practice management system to organize many functions of a practice. But evaluating and selecting one is no small task. Additionally, the wrong choice can require a transition to another product later which is costly in time and money.
Where to begin
One of the first questions is not deciding which practice management system to invest in. Instead, you need to determine if you want a server-based system or a cloud-based system.
Server-based systems have the software reside on a computer that you own and manage. You will get notified by the software vendor when an update is needed. You download it, install it, and you are back in business. Your practice data is owned and managed by you. Your data does not reside on the internet but is on your computer.
The other alternative is a cloud-based system. The data, software, updates, etc. all happen on a server that you do not own, i.e., in the cloud. Someone else is managing it, and most importantly, protecting it from bad people.
As time has gone on, more people are trusting their data to the cloud. But we should not forget that the cloud is a company or series of companies who support and maintain the data. You access your data via the internet, and it does not reside on any of your computers.
There are upside and downsides to both types of practice management systems. Here is a blog listing the pros and cons. It is from a company that offers a hybrid option, which is probably too expensive for us. Yet, the blog seems to evaluate the pros and cons fairly.
Factors to consider in your selection
Before we get into specific options, let’s consider what we are looking for in a practice management system.
First, we want a system that provides the basics of what we need for billing, collections, scheduling, and record keeping. And of course, everything must be HIPAA complaint In truth, most of the options are there have been around for more than a decade so they generally do an adequate job on all these tasks. But some are easier to use and will feel more intuitive for you.
Second, you want a system that is affordable now and will not become out of reach as you scale up. This is actually harder to evaluate. Most vendors do not put all their pricing out to the public. As you get larger, you may have to negotiate to get a price you can afford. There is some uniqueness that some vendors have not thought about. For example, if you are using a medical database, ten physicians might have 20 support staff. For us, a practice with ten therapists might have two support staff. And if the vendor has pricing based on the number of providers, things will quickly get funky.
Third, you will want a system that allows you to use all types of screens to access data. These days we use our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers to do our work. Some systems still struggle with the cross-platform nature of how we all work. Generally speaking, cloud-based systems are platform-agnostic requiring only a browser and internet connection. But of course, some systems will feel more comfortable on one device than another. Be sure to test the feel on multiple devices.
Lastly, let’s remember what we are trying to accomplish in this decision. We are seeking efficient ways to accomplish many of the Daily Core Activities that are required to stay in business. For example, the system you select should help you with your scheduling, billing, collecting, and even organizing some of the marketing efforts.
Some practice management systems
Below I have listed some practice management systems of each type. Most will offer you a free 30-day trial. If you are trying a couple out, then be sure to give yourself the time to play with them. Give yourself the time you need to evaluate each system. And they are all quite different in format.
Server-based practice management systems:
- ShrinkRapt — $35 per month–Mac or PC versions
- MacPractice – Mac-version medical database, durable and expensive
Cloud-based practice management systems (you only need the internet and a browser on any device):
- SimplePractice – $39 per months for Essential Plan
- TherapyNotes – $45 per month for one user
- TheraNest – $38 per month for first 30 patients
- CounSol.com – $54.95 per month for the first therapist
- MyClientsPlus – $24.95 plus charges for electronic claims
- Valant – Highly rated but must ask for pricing
Making the selection
You can see from this sample that there are many more cloud-based options than server-based. In my experience, smaller practices tend to start with cloud-based options. As they get larger and the monthly costs add up, they may move to server-based options. Some will stay with what is familiar and accept the higher costs. And even though server-based options have more start-up costs, they become more cost-effective as you get large enough.
Once you have narrowed the field down to your favorites, give the system a try with some real data. You will quickly get a feel for how the flow goes for your real-world practices. And sometimes, the app itself with force you to change some of the ways you do things. This is typical but not all bad. Sometimes the changes may add some efficiency.
One last thought on discontentment
And in conclusion, let me mention, that no matter what choice you make, all practice owners eventually become discontent with the practice management system they selected. In my case, I went through three vendors before settling on MacPractice, an expensive but durable option. Even that option was not perfect, but it allowed unlimited growth for us. Yet we still contended with occasional bugs. A certain degree of discontent seems to go with the territory no matter which option you choose. So be at peace and make it work. The goal is a good enough process, most of the time.
To look at other aspects of developing your practice infrastructure see: