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What to look for in methadone clinic software

May 1, 2006
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IT solutions can save time, produce better data, and help with the bottom line

Directors of outpatient methadone clinics always are balancing costs against benefits. Because they need to manage within budgets, they must be absolutely certain that improvements will yield an appropriate return on investment (ROI). Today, many technology vendors are making their software solutions very affordable, creating new opportunities for methadone clinic directors to upgrade service delivery. As a result, this is an appropriate time to revisit the considerations for evaluating methadone clinic management software.

Among the top goals of many clinic directors is having staff spend more time caring for patients and less time on administration, maintaining better records, and producing more effective reports. However, any effort to improve operations must be balanced with budget considerations. Let's look at these areas and determine what the appropriate software solution must have to accomplish these goals.

Timesaving Functions

Record keeping. Working in a substance abuse clinic requires a great deal of focus and energy because of the number of simultaneous activities. Patients are anxious to receive their medications, meet with their counselors, and get on with the day's activities. The clinic must comply with federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and procedures; provide a multitude of services for their patients; and bill patients, Medicaid, and private insurance carriers. Other activities include:

  • receiving, logging, and tracking class 2 narcotics, such as methadone;

  • writing orders and dispensing medications;

  • accounting for every milligram of medication in inventory, dispensed, or destroyed; and

  • scheduling and tracking a range of supports such as social services, mental health services, and testing services.

A meaningful software solution should manage all of these functions and more. Record keeping should happen automatically in the course of a clinic's normal daily work. By this we mean that accepting medication shipments, scheduling appointments, writing orders, and providing patient services should be logical, automated, and provide all the information the clinic needs. Thus, clinic management software must be intuitive, as well as easy to understand, use, and configure.

Configurability. The ability to configure software to work as the clinic operates is important. Some software requires clinics to change their practices to adapt to the way the software has been designed. On the other hand, configurable software mirrors a clinic's procedures and rules by allowing clinic managers to answer questions and define their processes within the software. As a result, work methods do not need to be changed, and people are instantly more comfortable with the software solution. Configurable software allows for adaptation to changing procedures and rules, thereby protecting the software investment well into the future.

Signatures. Procedures can be enhanced by combining familiar models with new technology. Many items can be “signed in” one of several ways, depending on state laws and regulations:

  • Wet signatures are ink signatures on paper—the old-fashioned way. Almost every state requires that one or more documents (e.g., medication orders) be printed, carry wet signatures, and be placed in a patient's permanent file. Software applications must be able to print every form or screen that any state might require to have a wet signature for the permanent file. Some software prints orders on labels for signatures, thereby saving space in the file as multiple labels can be affixed to individual sheets of paper.

  • Electronic signatures require an electronic signature pad, such as those at retail stores for signing for a credit or debit card purchase. The person signs the electronic pad, and the signature is stored in a database along with a record of the item being signed for. Methadone clinic software can allow physicians to sign orders, patients to sign for receipt of medications, and counselors to sign notes or treatment care plans using an electronic signature pad.

  • Digital signatures require no additional hardware. One digitally “signs” by reentering one's log-in identification and a special signature password. Thus, a counselor can digitally sign his notes or a physician an order by entering his digital signature data at the time the activity is completed.

Clinics should check with their state about what can be signed for in what ways.

Tracking accreditation and licensure requirements. Methadone clinics must maintain their accreditation status, as well as staff members’ certifications, licensures, and ongoing educational requirements. Software should provide treatment care plan functions that the various accreditation bodies have accepted. It should track and report on what staff members must do to stay current.

Streamlining payment. The software must have the capability to record direct payments from patients and invoice third-party insurers. Billing and payment can be handled one of three ways:

  • Service bureau. Some companies offer a service bureau approach that eliminates the need for clinic-based billing staff and the pressure of managing the process of continuous billing and rebilling.

  • Data export. Another approach is to allow for an extraction and transfer of data to, for example, a hospital-based billing solution.

  • Clinic-based billing. A separate billing module allows the clinic itself to perform and manage the billing process.

The most appropriate and cost-effective solution varies based on a clinic's needs.