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Report Provides Insight For Physicians Considering Changing Practice Management Systems

A recently released white paper, "Time for a Switch: Your Complete Guide to Practice Management System Replacement," offers physicians and practice managers practical advice on how to decide whether their practice needs to change or update its practice management (PM) system, along with tips on how to select a replacement and to make the transition. The report, issued by Web-based practice management, EHR, and medical billing software provider CareCloud, located in Miami, Florida, is available as a free download.

The white paper is divided into sections intended to help physicians and practice managers understand the information technology (IT) trends with the potential to affect a practice's profitability and evaluate what the practice's IT needs are, decide whether they will need a new PM or billing system, and be prepared for the challenges they will face should they determine that a new PM system is needed.

Reasons to Switch

The white paper provides a list of reasons why a practice may wish to consider switching to a new PM system. The first reason listed is the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which mandates that physician practices make the switch to electronic health record (EHR) systems before 2015 if they wish to avoid incurring penalties for not using an EHR.

The second factor that may lead a practice to consider adopting a new PM system is the upcoming switch from the ICD-9 to the ICD-10 code sets, which go into effect on October 1, 2014. "This will increase the number of diagnosis and procedural codes from 17,000 to more than 155,000," the white paper says.

"Many practice management systems used today for scheduling and billing in the office will struggle to adapt to changing requirements," the report continues. "As a result, some will become obsolete, lose support from their vendor or require practices to make expensive upgrades to accommodate these new codes and reimbursement protocols."

Lastly, the white paper lists the recent change to ANSI 5010, the "new version of HIPAA transaction standards that regulates the electronic transmission of healthcare transactions," as a factor that may make it necessary for a practice to switch to a new PM system. The new mandate "alters how medical practices configure and submit insurance claims to insurers," the report says. "As of January 1, 2012—when all practices needed to complete electronic transaction in ANSI 5010-compliant format—fewer than 10% could," the white paper says.

Helping Physicians Decide

Practices considering switching their PM systems have two types of systems to decide between, client/server hardware and cloud-based solutions, the white paper says. Client/server hardware is the traditional computer hardware and software with which most physicians are familiar by now. In this system, a practice's PM software and all data are housed on a server that is maintained by the practice within its offices. Cloud-based systems operate over the Internet. Data are stored off-site, on secure servers maintained by the provider. When a practice uses a cloud-based system, all functionality and data are accessible remotely at any time, from any location where Internet access is available.

The white paper makes a case in the favor of cloud-based solutions (CareCloud, who produced the white paper, is a provider of cloud-based PM and EHR systems). "Cloud-based systems are generally delivered through Software-as-a-Service (Saas) agreements, which means they are paid for like a utility—on-demand and based on usage metrics," the report says. The paper cites a survey conducted by ZDNet (www.zdnet.com) that indicates that "SaaS systems cost 1/3 to 1/2 as much to own as traditional on-premise client-server solutions." Further, cloud-based PM systems have advantages over client/server hardware systems in terms of scalability and operational agility, providing physician practices "the ability to rapidly expand their business and quickly respond to changes," the white paper says.

Additional advantages of a cloud-based system are the ability to implement one "while continuing to use current systems to avoid disruptions in operations," the report says. Finally, data stored in the cloud are backed up to multiple remote locations, rendering them safer in the event of a natural disaster or other type of service disruption, the white paper says.

The paper lists a number of criteria a practice should take into account when assessing whether it is time to replace a PM system. Key among these criteria are whether the physicians are satisfied with how the practice is currently being managed; whether billing, PM, and EHR systems are fully integrated; and whether the PM system can be accessed remotely, among others.

To assist physicians and practice managers who have determined that their practices need to adopt a new PM system, the white paper includes a questionnaire that can guide their decision regarding what type of new system will best serve their needs. The questionnaire consists of 22 yes-no questions on a variety of topics, including the PM vendor being considered, the technology being considered, the design of the new system, accessibility, modern capabilities, contract and cost, and the support available.

Switching and Implementation

The last, and perhaps the most useful, section of the white paper consists of a series of tips on how to best attempt to make the switch to a new PM system. Data conversion, training and implementation are all taken into account.

The paper lays out two general approaches that practices can consider taking to switching PM systems. The first approach is called "Big Bang," according to the paper. "An implementation strategy that cuts over all parts of a planning system at the same time in a company or division, as opposed to a phased implementation module by module," is how the white paper defines the Big Bang approach. The other approach is referred to as "Phased Implementation." The white paper defines Phased Implementation as "A gradual rollout of functions sequentially to a grouping of departments and/or practices."

Pros and cons of each approach are presented, along with useful insights from physicians and practice managers who have attempted each approach. Rollout strategies are described and recommended for each approach, along with general guidelines for which strategy is most effective in what types or sizes of medical practices.

Ultimately, the adoption of an up-to-date PM system will increase a practice's revenue and levels of efficiency, the white paper says. It quotes Lawrence, Berger, MD, based in Miami, Fla., who has recently been through the process of implementing a new PM system in his cardiology practice. "We're collecting faster, more accurately," he says. "It's been cutting my time down by a few hours every day. "That gives me an opportunity to do other things in the hospital, take on additional work or even just get home earlier to see the family."

The full report is available for free at http://tinyurl.com/d3gve4a.

—Reported and written by Editor Rev DiCerto

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