Clearly, when it comes to
practice software, there are no one-size-fits-all answers. Practices
vary too widely for that, and therapists have widely different comfort
level when it comes to integrating technology into their professional
lives. Nonetheless, there are some basic ideas that are important
regardless of what kind of practice you’re running.
In the chart, right, we provide basic pricing and contact info for
six of the leading products in the field. And by the way, although we
use the term "billing program" in this report, the products we’re
looking at may do any or all of the following: 1) keep your
schedule; 2) hold session notes; 3) notify you when
you’re reaching the end of approved benefits; 4) handle
electronic billing; and many other important tasks.
When you look at the programs listed here--or at any billing
software--these are the questions you’ll need to answer:
1. What does it cost? That seems obvious, but every program
you look at will package its available features a little differently.
And prices vary so widely that it’s hard to figure out what’s going
on. There are programs that cost $150 and others that go for $10,000.
Here’s the bad news: In this field, low-priced programs
generally can’t be trusted. Over the years, we’ve seen several billing
programs that were designed by enthusiastic amateurs. Sometimes
they’re therapists with a flair for computer programming. In other
cases, they’re professional programmers who’ve developed the program
as a sideline business. Are their programs bad? No--sometimes
they’re pretty darn good. The trouble is, these vendors don’t have the
resources to really compete. You’ll buy their software and love using
it--but two years later the company is out of business and you’re left
with an orphan program. That means no updates and no support.
At the other extreme, high-priced programs may have been designed
for large entities, or for medical practices. The software company is
selling them to small-practice behavioral health providers to pick up
a few extra dollars. You can count on them to be there down the
road--but you might be paying for features you don’t need.
The sweet spot for solo practitioners is in the $500 to $1,000
range. For small groups, it’s more like $1,000 to $2,000.
2. What will it cost each year to maintain the program?
Clinicians who’ve never shopped for specialty business software before
sometimes feel that they shouldn’t have to pay anything. After all,
when you buy Microsoft Word you can use it for years without a fee.
Billing programs are different--you’re going to need updates.
Even the best programs have small glitches that need correcting. In
addition, there are changes in the law, in the DSM, and in insurance
company data formats. With your whole practice tied up in that
software, you need reliable tech support.
In general, service contracts cost between $150 and $350 a
year--that should include routine updates and technical support by
email and phone. At the lower end, tech support may be limited to
shorter periods during the day.
3. How do I find a program that’s easy to learn? Stick to
programs that have been around at least five years. Ten is even
better. That means the rough edges have been sanded down, and major
customer complaints have been addressed. That said, there is no
substitute for spending time with a program demo. With most programs,
the demo is actually the complete program, with a built-in time limit
to prevent you from using it indefinitely without paying.
Of course, as a practical matter, you can’t learn every program on
the market and know for certain which one is best for you. But you can
tell a lot if a program seems to offer clear instructions on how to
do the basic tasks. Try entering some sample progress notes. And
if you do electronic billing, prepare an electronic entry.
Also, the company should give you adequate technical support while
you’re testing the demo. If they don’t, that’s a bad sign.
4. Can I transfer everything from my existing software? Some
vendors claim it will be easy, but it rarely is. And paying to have it
done can be expensive and lead to extended headaches. It’s usually
better to keep your old system going while you put new patients on
the new program. Current patients can be entered on the new system
without trying to include all their old records. Make back-ups of the
old data--with printouts, if possible.
5. Is it worth all the trouble? Yes. If you can get your
software working properly, your collection rate will rise, and you’ll
get your money faster. And there is a great opportunity to improve
your marketing efforts when you see clearly where your patients really
6. Should I consider one of the new online billing systems?
With these services, all office management tasks--including
billing--are maintained remotely. You access your "virtual office"
online. Many of these systems have come and gone in the last 10 years.
Some may be gaining traction now--but we haven’t been in touch with
enough of their users to make a judgment. This is a subject we’ll be
looking into in the future