If ever software offered an opportunity for relief from administrative burdens, the behavioral health arena stands front and center. At least in theory, providers should enjoy tremendous benefit from the computer’s power to store, retrieve, and display information, not to mention calculate, analyze, and manipulate that data. Software can make it much easier for everyone involved to follow the vast number of clinical, administrative, and operational workflows that are inherent in the modern management of mental health disorders.
Despite the promise computerization offers, the software marketplace for behavioral health is challenging to navigate. Packages vary dramatically in the features they offer, the degree of customization they allow, and the extent to which they facilitate regulatory compliance, team communications, and insurance reimbursement. They also differ in how well they understand what providers need to make them more accurate and efficient as they work through their day.
It’s even the case that software packages vary in how they’re labeled. Some call themselves “EHR” solutions, while others go by “EMR” or “Practice Management Software.” It can help you decide which type of package is best for you if you understand some of the distinctions. So we’ve put together what we know those labels represent so you can better understand your options.
According to the National Alliance for Health Information Technology (NAHIT), the definition of electronic medical records (EMR) software is, “An electronic record of health-related information on an individual that can be created, gathered, managed, and consulted by authorized clinicians and staff within one health care organization.”
An EMR is the digital version of a patient’s medical and treatment history. It contains information on all patients in the clinic, including clinical history, diagnoses, and procedures. EMRs are used to track data over time, identify which patients are due for preventative screenings, and monitor vital signs, vaccinations, and other medical data. The software seamlessly integrates the full scope of your practice's operation and provides a secure and transparent method to measure the quality of care based on established criteria. Workflows in both your clinical and administrative departments are made more efficient and streamlined, leading to improved patient outcomes and enhanced financial management of your organization. While EMRs are typically used to store valuable data, once data is entered, it can be difficult to export.
An electronic health record (EHR) goes beyond just recording information relevant to clinical status. It is designed to collect a wider array of data, including those from a patient’s other professional contacts. In other words, EHR systems are designed to follow a patient from one practice to another—collecting all their data along the way. These data include information about their clinical history, progress notes, diagnoses, and medications. All the details about symptoms, treatments, and prescriptions give the mental health professional a complete picture of the patient’s overall health condition. EHR systems typically contain a robust set of features that provide an all-around solution to facilitate the workflow of mental health professionals. These include paperwork documentation, electronic billing, patient notes, security and compliance.
The primary difference between an EHR and EMR is interoperability. EHR systems are designed for collaboration amongst all a patient’s providers. After recording information from various clinicians who are involved in the patient’s care, the system shares the data outside the practice by making them instantly and easily accessible to other authorized health care providers. EHR’s even give patients access to their own data via an easy to use portal.
Practice Management Software
Practice management software does everything that an EHR can do, but extends its reach to include a wide range of administrative functions, such as:
- Tracking regulatory compliance
- Coding and billing
- Insurance verification
- Appointment scheduling
- Practice analysis reporting
- Revenue Cycle Management
- Billing tracking and statements
- Payroll and personnel management
Practice management solutions can dramatically improve efficiency because they can offer an integrated infrastructure for everything that happens within a clinical practice. These systems typically provide the additional option of integrating with an EHR system for better record management.
Some added benefits of practice management software include:
- Fast reimbursement: The software enables you to search for various reports, including insurance information, and Electronic Remittance Advice [ERA]. It helps you process reimbursements more quickly by finalizing daily billing, classifying the accounts receivable and tracking patient records.
- Streamlined operations: A high-quality practice management software will store all the relevant information online and allow you to search EHR documents easily. You will be able to create progress reports, capture patient demographics, and process insurance claims and accounts receivables.
- Supports practices of all sizes: The ideal practice management solution can help mental health practices of all sizes because it only requires an internet connection and a simple computer network. It can easily integrate with the daily processes of small and midsize practices. For large practices, the solution can manage large databases and an unlimited number of records.
- Integrated system to update information: Clinicians can update patient information regularly and manage the insurance and billing processes. The chance for error is also reduced because the software can check that the data is valid.
Whether you choose an EHR, EMR, and/or practice management solution, you will need to approach the decision fully aware of both the benefits and potential pitfalls of computerization. What’s most important is to first have it clear in your mind what features you need for your practice and the level of customization you’ll require to make it work best over time. Success comes from first thinking through your specifications and then matching software to meet those needs. You will want to ask what the software can do for you, not how you can adjust your needs to what the software allows. At the end of the day, you want your mental health software to be a powerful force for good practice and efficient operations.