Clinic management software applications are built upon databases. Databases need to meet certain criteria to be sufficiently robust and offer full data protection.
Security. No clinic director would want or allow records to be changed by unauthorized staff members. The database should apply security policies, as well as include extensive audit trails regarding who changes records, what the changes are, and when changes are made. In addition, some software providers have created advanced security protocols that limit whether an individual can even view, much less change, certain types of information. The integrity of patient information is better protected when the software is designed from the outset to enforce this type of security.
Easy maintenance. Such protection should not come at a heavy burden. The database should be easy to maintain, and IT staff should be able to support the database on a full-time or contract basis for a reasonable cost.
Full suite of reports. The software should offer a full set of reports, especially those required to manage the clinic's day-to-day business. While each clinic may vary to some degree in how it chooses to deliver services, the type of information required to manage clinics is often very similar. A software provider with industry experience should provide most or all of the necessary reports and make them configurable (such as by date range or by various patient categories). For reports that are not included or for special reports, the software vendor should provide either a built-in report writer or the ability to access the database via third-party report writers.
Electronic transmission. One of the trends that software must continue to address is the capability to transmit or accept data electronically. Most software vendors provide this capability. Some have taken this a step further by allowing laboratories to transmit test result data to the clinical management application and directly populate the appropriate fields in patients’ records. This capability eliminates data entry errors, speeds up data availability and, of course, reduces costs.
Data aggregation. Some software companies offer the ability to store and aggregate data for multiple clinics. Consolidation within the industry is happening more and more, and companies are looking to perform their business analyses across entire corporate entities. For those organizations, software should have multiclinic capabilities that allow patients to be served when and where it is most appropriate, and patient information should be available to all clinics in the group.
Still, when all is said and done, the solution must deliver an appropriate ROI. Some software providers make ROI easier by spreading payments for support and upgrades over time. ROI is achieved easily when the software costs less than the costs of data entry, preparing for audits, or having extra staff record data manually. Consider several cost components:
purchase or lease price of the software;
cost of database maintenance;
technical support costs;
training costs; and
equipment costs, such as automated dispensing pumps, label printers, receipt printers, and digital cameras for patient photographs in the software (the cost associated with purchasing new hardware to run the software also should be considered, although these costs may be capitalized).
Make sure that the software package includes effective training and technical assistance, as well:
Training. Many experts agree that the most effective software training method is on-site training provided immediately before the clinic begins to use the application. Even more useful is having the trainer remain on-site to answer staff questions during the first few days the clinic uses the software. Having someone available to answer questions and coach the staff is especially crucial to fostering fast software adoption. It is at this early time that staff members judge how easy or difficult the software is to learn and use, thereby influencing their comfort level with the software.
Technical assistance. People make mistakes and forget what they have learned, especially when the software is feature-rich. A technical support team must be accessible year-round to answer questions or correct errors.
The opportunities for clinic directors to upgrade their operations have never been greater. By evaluating solutions within this framework, managers can allow their staff to meet their goals, increase service quality, create a better workplace, and deliver services more cost-effectively and efficiently than ever before.
David Blumenthal market software solutions for Netsmart Technologies, Inc.
Ray Stoddard market software solutions for Netsmart Technologies, Inc.