Two people stand side-by-side and look at an electronic tablet. The person on the left is an older man with white hair and a white beard; he wears glasses and a lab coat, and he has a stethoscope draped around his neck. He points at something on the screen of the tablet, which is held by the woman on the right.
Electronic medical records (EMR) software handles clinical data and is often integrated with practice management systems (PMS), which deal with administrative tasks. — Getty Images/fizkes

Foundational technologies like electronic medical records (EMR) software, electronic health records (EHR), or integrated health care practice management systems (PMS) enhance patient care delivery and improve outcomes. These tools also help practitioners manage administrative processes, from appointment scheduling to claims processing. However, finding the right EMR or PMS for your office (and budget) can be challenging.

The best solutions are easy to deploy and use, meet provider and patient needs, and scale as your practice grows. Cover your bases before buying EMR software to avoid unexpected yet preventable problems later. Follow these steps to choose the best practice management application or EMR system.

Outline your motivations for buying EMR software

What is the main reason you decided to purchase EMR software? For many physicians, having access to patient histories and improving workflows are critical. Some want to solve current issues in their practice, like inefficient patient visits. Others simply have run out of space to store paper records.

Write down your main goals and the outcomes you expect to occur once you deploy a practice management or EMR system. This step helps you focus on the essential features while sticking to your budget.

[Read more: Starting Small and Focusing on Networking Brought Success to This Physical Therapy Practice]

Make a budget for purchasing, implementation, and training

EMR and practice management software pricing varies. Most vendors provide custom quotes, with pricing starting at over $100 monthly. In addition, software providers may charge fees for implementation, training, and support services. Cloud-based systems or software as a service (SaaS) have lower upfront costs, as these solutions don’t require on-site infrastructure. On-premise applications can cost thousands of dollars, and you may need to upgrade your on-site computers or server system.

Even technically savvy doctors and assistants will need training in EMR and practice management systems. Although vendors may supply self-service guides, most recommend an implementation program for quicker deployment.

Your budget should factor in costs for:

  • EMR or practice management licensing, implementation, and other fees.
  • Employee training and wages.
  • Workplace phone and office coverage during system deployment, if necessary.
  • Possible reduction in patient services during implementation.

Decide between a standalone EMR or integrated PMS

EMR software handles clinical aspects, whereas PMS applications manage the administrative side. Both are essential medical practice tools. If you choose separate solutions, ideally, they should integrate. However, modern practice management systems often have built-in EMR capabilities. Some may offer patient engagement modules, too.

Consider your practice size, including the number of patients and staff. Then, speak with your team to learn which features would improve clinical and managerial workflows, from patient scheduling to visits. Refer to your business goals and challenges to identify must-have features your EMR or PMS software should have.

EMR and PMS applications may offer the following tools and capabilities:

  • Appointment scheduling.
  • Patient portals.
  • Lab integrations.
  • Customizable EMR templates.
  • Electronic prescribing (e-prescribing).
  • 24/7 access.
  • Physician decision support.
  • Medical charting.
  • Billing.
  • Telehealth and video conferencing.
  • Insurance verification and claims management.
  • Analytics, reporting, and dashboards.
  • Clinical workflow management.
  • Revenue cycle integrations.

It’s almost impossible to know what capabilities come with a software package without speaking to a sales representative.

Identify potential EMR solutions

For starters, ask members of your professional network for recommendations. They can discuss how the buying, implementation, and training process worked and talk about any hurdles they experienced along the way. Read medical office software reviews to learn about the pros and cons or to explore various options. Capterra and G2 also provide user ratings for most software solutions.

Here are a few EMR and PMS tools to check out:

  • athenahealth: This scalable integrated practice solution offers tools for startups, specialty practices, and more. The athenaOne platform has a voice-powered EHR with telehealth services and population support. athenahealth also provides revenue cycle software, patent engagement tools, and advisory services.
  • AdvancedMD: Solo practitioners and large physician groups can leverage automation capabilities with AdvancedMD’s all-in-one suite of smart applications. It combines practice management, patient engagement, and electronic health records on a single platform. Built-in credit card processing, financial reporting, and clinical decision support tools help doctors oversee every aspect of their practice.
  • NextGen Healthcare: Thoma Bravo recently signed an agreement to purchase NextGen Healthcare, aiming to “best position NextGen Healthcare for continued growth and success.” NextGen Healthcare’s EHR has an integrated practice management system with native email and messaging tools, analytics, and an embedded patient portal.

Speak with sales reps and request pricing information

Many medical software vendors offer several types of applications. Few provide pricing online. So, it’s almost impossible to know what capabilities come with a software package without speaking to a sales representative. Set aside time to gather information by chatting with agents online or over the phone. Remember to ask about additional costs for implementation, support services, and training.

In most cases, you’ll need to provide details about your practice. This may include:

  • Number of software users.
  • Current number of patients.
  • Your billing method (in-house or outsourced).
  • Number of providers.
  • Your primary specialty.

[Read more: How Crom Rehab Built a Successful Practice on Good Customer Service]

Schedule demos

Once you’ve gathered information about each software solution, it’s time to dig into the details. During a product demonstration, the sales representative reviews the features and answers questions. It’s an excellent time to see how the user interface handles different workflows. Chat with your staff to see which functions they’re most interested in or concerned about.

Consider the following before and during the meeting:

  • Have one or more employees join the demo when possible.
  • Ask the host if you can record the session.
  • Develop a list of questions.
  • Speak up if you feel the rep is moving too fast or want to see a particular feature more in-depth.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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