Do Your Research! (Part 2)
by Marisa Thompson + Leigh-Ann Renz, 3.8.18
Mental Health is Unique – its Practice Management is too!
All EMRs are not created equal – and this is especially true of behavioral health EMRs! Sadly, mental health is often treated as the red-headed stepchild of the EHR world. Behavioral health clinicians are notoriously resistant to migrate to a paperless system; and once they are ready to make the change, there are a ton of systems to consider.
In the age of Meaningful Use, many electronic systems have been slapped together in the past six to seven years to try and capture the federal incentive funds. Unfortunately, many of these programs don’t address the daily challenges of the clinicians using them: they’re cumbersome at best; and behavioral health functionality is often an afterthought, if considered at all.
The need for efficiency, easy integration among departments, data security, and especially mental-health specific features were often sacrificed in the rush to create many of these practice management systems. How can you be a smart shopper? In our humble opinion, here are the key elements that a behavioral health EHR should include.
Behavioral Health EMR Checklist (Part 2)
7. Automatic backup routines to protect the integrity of the data
We’ve all had the stomach-dropping experience of working hard on a document, only to have our changes lost for one reason or another. It’s never pleasant, and it can be especially annoying when it’s session notes – or client payments! - that are erased.
In order to support practice efficiency, your EHR should provide reliable nightly backups to protect both client and practice data. Not only does this enhance HIPAA compliance and overall security, it also gives you a huge measure of comfort to know that your vital company data won’t be lost and can be retrieved if needed.
Having to do backup routines manually is cumbersome and inefficient – plus opens up the potential of human error and therefore data loss. Look for a program that offers these routines automatically.
8. Data ownership - do you get a copy of your data if / when you leave? Do you have to pay for this?
We were pretty surprised a few years ago when we found out that some other EHRs hold data hostage, either by forcing leaving clinicians to pay to get their m out of a system – or by not responding to requests to retrieve patient records! Before you sign a contract with a mental health EHR, be sure to confirm how they handle this issue.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of signing a contract and onboarding a new system, think of the potential headaches if you have a hard time extracting your data if you choose to non-renew in the future. Not only could it be a time-consuming – and/or expensive challenge – it can also negatively impact your HIPAA compliance.
You’re not going to stop treating patients while you transition from one EMR to another. But what happens if you get audited in the middle of the migration? OCR wants to see a client’s HIPAA documentation; but it’s stuck in your last EMR and you can’t retrieve the data. Or a payer needs a signed copy of a consent form. What a pain to make your patients resubmit all of their supporting documentation! You need access to all client + practice records, easily and efficiently.
And what about patient treatment? Let’s say a clinician is filling in for a sick colleague and treating a regular client. They can’t access the treatment plan or previous session notes because the legacy EHR has those records on lockdown. Not having secure access to all data is not only a security risk, it also threatens secure and timely client treatment.
No matter how great a mental health EMR might be, if you can’t easily + affordably get your information out of the program, the headaches of data extraction might outweigh the benefits. Make sure to nail this detail down before signing a contract.
9. There’s no such thing as a free lunch
If the system is “free”, then how is it operating? You cannot run a company or provide a service without funding of some kind. Data is being housed on a server; developers are being paid to maintain and/or update the program. There are costs to providing an EHR: the vendor is receiving funds in some way.
Is this through advertisements? Are vital features being blocked? Is the client data being sold? Some clinicians are fine with any of this; others are wary of their client’s data being sold, even if it’s stripped of PHI.
Although one of the biggest “free” systems just started charging its customers, it’s always good to investigate how an EHR charges. Even if the program is not billing you directly, operating costs are being covered somehow; as a user, you are participating in this exchange. Make sure you understand how you are paying for the program – and make sure that you’re ok with it.
10. Is support located in the US? Are you going to have language barriers if you need assistance or training?
It doesn’t matter how earnestly someone is trying to assist you; if you can’t understand them or there’s a language barrier, it doesn’t work – especially if you’re discussing technical issues! Whenever you on-board a practice management system, there is a lot of training initially – and there’s always going to be ongoing customer support needs for the life of the contract.
When shopping for an EMR, be sure to get details about where the customer service is located: are there time zone restrictions and/or language barriers that might interfere with securing training and/or support efficiently + effectively?
11. Is the system regularly updated? Do you have any say in improvements or changes?
Technology changes, as do the laws that regulate its usage. Laws change, especially within behavioral health! Not only does your mental health EHR need to change on a regular basis in order to stay in compliance with laws + policies, any system worth its salt should grow and evolve over time. Remember in the 90s, when programs were delivered via DVDs? That’s a perfect example of a static, unchanging system – there’s a reason software isn’t acquired from a mailed disc anymore!
PIMSY is updated regularly, based on both the feedback of our customers – and industry updates. Not only was PIMSY created by and for mental health providers to fulfill their practice management needs; it continues to grow and evolve according to their changing requirements. Additionally, PIMSY incorporates the fluctuating protocols of our industry: ICD-10; DSM-5; Meaningful Use; CPT code updates; etc, etc.
When researching software, find out how often the system is updated – if the improvements are free or charged – and if you have any say in the changes. Ideally, a program will always be improving based on both customer requests; the improvements will be free and/or reasonably priced; and you as a client are empowered to contribute your feedback and help drive the upgrades.
Looking for a new practice management software? Don’t miss our free guide on doing your research to get the best system! Click here for 'Do Your Research: Part 1' & here for 'Do Your Research: Part 3'
Marisa Thompson is currently PIMSY's Sales Director, but prior to taking that role, she both used PIMSY at an agency as an end-user - and then joined our Support Department as an employee. She knows PIMSY inside and out and has put it to work from every possible angle.
In addition, she is a HIPAA Privacy Officer and has extensive knowledge about HIPAA, practice management, and practice needs, from front desk to clinician. In addition to leading the Sales Team, she is regularly called upon for consultation with Marketing, Management, Development, and Support.