How to choose the best home healthcare software for your agency in 2017
The Software Search is Different Now
Are you starting the year with a software search for your home health, hospice, or home care agency? If you’re like most agencies, you’re using a software solution that was purchased many years ago that’s been long-since outgrown. Your agency has grown, diversified service offerings, and even evolved in care delivery methods. If your software hasn’t kept up, this article will explore how to make the right decision in selecting your next technology partner.
Decide why it’s time for a change
Does your software require numerous updates that drain resources or disrupt care? Is it a “web-based” solution that hasn’t grown with your or kept up with the industry? Is your software home-grown, but becoming difficult to manage? Most commonly, has your vendor failed to deliver on functionality you were expecting? Many agencies use their software only for scheduling and billing. There are also many reports of failure to launch point-of-care documentation while others have reported major work-arounds to successfully operate their agencies. Other agencies have decided that they aren’t as paperless as they would like.
Do some “Soul searching” at your agency.
What are the most important features needed in an EMR software to help your agency run more efficiently? Does billing drive your agency, as was the case for most agencies 10 years ago, or is the opportunity for efficiency on the clinical side where 3 out of 4 of the users will more likely be experiencing frustration? Look beyond the “nice to have” features and boil the selection process down to why you decided to move on to new software. In other words, decide what you’re willing to give up and what you must have.
If you have strong compliance processes in place, perhaps more important or as equally important in your software is a user-friendly point of care solution. Maybe one software has a great feature that saves the biller several hours a month. How does that weigh against a solution that saves your 100 nurses 30 minutes each day? Deciding what’s truly important to you will make these trade-off decisions easier to make.
Imagine your agency in a few years.
If you’re growing, chances are you’re diversifying your services by adding business lines. Many agencies that were primarily Medicare Home Health five years ago are finding ways to add complimentary services such as private duty home care, hospice, pediatrics, or even unique programs such as transitional care or adult day care. Some are trying Medicaid or Community-Based programs as agencies dip their toes in the pre-acute pool of home care services. This leaves forward-thinking agencies in a difficult technology situation, as many software solutions are obsolete because they can’t handle the needs of the agency of the future. Many agencies now service their communities with non-skilled services to complement their skilled programs. As agencies grow, it’s becoming more and more common to see them operating on three or more software solutions, or documenting primarily on paper. Is this acceptable to you? What would it mean to have visibility and reporting capability across all your locations and service lines on a single platform? Ask yourself: is there a solution that can truly operate all your lines of service now and in the foreseeable future?
Check out the software.
Do your demos, and ask questions. Don’t take features for granted. For example, does the vendor say they can add custom forms that look like your paper forms? Ask to see an example. Likewise, do you have unique payors you work with? Don’t assume they can be billed until you see a list in writing.
It’s difficult to fight the tendency to get hung up on a favorite feature in your old software that isn’t offered in the new software. Keep in mind that you can always request development or customization as part of the contract with your new vendor. Conversely, the purpose of your favorite feature might be achieved through other functionality in the new software. Remember that change often requires a new way of doing things
In an era of cloud-based solutions, be aware of the “roots” of your solution. Why was it created? Who is behind it? Was this originally a client-server solution that was “fork-lifted” to the cloud? Is it truly cloud-based and optimized for the web? Are there stability and downtime problems with the solution?
For a software that is cloud-based, you need to know where the data is housed and how secure it is. As a compliant agency, you know all too well the requirements of holding a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with all partners and vendors, as defined under HIPAA. In fact, you’re going to insist that your cloud-based software provider signs one as part of your partnership. However, does your software vendor have one in place with the entity that hosts them? You need to know that large cloud hosts like Microsoft Cloud and Amazon Web Services will not sign a BAA with any software provider that doesn’t live up to stringent standards regarding security. Make sure your provider has passed this scrutiny and has a BAA in place with their web host.
Examine how much customization you need.
This is an easy way to eliminate many vendors from the selection process. Do you need special processes to accommodate regulatory requirements for specific programs? Do you need electronic forms that emulate paper forms you’re trying to eliminate? That should be an easy way to pare down the list of vendors. One caveat- if you have special forms you need, and a vendor tells you that they can recreate them electronically, ask for an example. This is especially important for Medicaid forms, where they must be exact recreations of the paper forms that are to be submitted to the state agencies that oversee the programs.
What about third party software you already have in place? Do you want to keep it or will you be forced to switch vendors? If the software you’re selecting includes replacements- are they robust or would you be taking a step backward? That might include data analysis, payroll, billing, CRM, or any number of solutions. Look for integration, interfaces or API’s that might be available from the vendors you’re considering that will allow you to keep your existing solutions.
Involve your staff.
Invite a few key employees in for the demos and take their input seriously. They will be the ones who ultimately use the software in their day-to-day work. Having their buy-in will help ensure success during the implementation.
Talk to other providers, as well as their staff who now work for you.
References are obviously important, however, don’t just get one and move on- if the reference was provided by the software vendor, you should make a list of the important areas to your business (see Soul Searching above) and dig into those issues. For example, if ease-of-use is important, create some specific questions centered around this. If support is important to your agency, do the same, and get details: How is their response time? If support is provided overseas, does this impact turnaround?
About Online Reviews:
We’re in an age where we trust the opinion of a complete stranger before making a buying decision, and there are plenty of online viewpoints available in the home health care industry. Remember that everyone has a voice today, so if a customer or anyone in an organization is dissatisfied, they can post their opinion online. If an end-user has complaints, they will often go to the easiest channel, which is social media. If you see bad reviews or comments on Facebook or Twitter, it’s important to see how the company responds. If they’re ignored, this may be a bad sign. Remember that social media is the easiest channel for complaints, and that the feelings of an end users might not reflect the opinion of the organization or agency.
The best reviews are honest, with real pluses and minuses of the software solution. I’d discount a vendor has an unusually large number of reviews that are 100% positive or were all posted on the same month. Remember, there is no “right” choice for all providers. At my company, DeVero, we encourage honest reviews that reflect not only the product, but the relationship we have with our customers.
Check out the software company.
Look for opportunities to get to know your vendors and get a better “feel” for the true strengths and weaknesses of the company. Take a look at LinkedIn. Do they have a small number of employees? Is support provided overseas? Is the company owned by a private equity firm that hired managers and key people from outside of the industry? These are all important considerations when evaluating vendors.
Also, I like to tell people to check out their state and industry trade shows. If the vendor participates, it’s often a sign that they have other customers in the region, that they are able to address the local challenges that come with providing home health care in the area, and that they are committed to delivering a solution to meet your needs now and in the future.
These tips aren’t for the process of choosing the software, but are more about SUCCESS with your chosen software. You might argue they are more important than the selection process.
Get top management buy-in. This seems obvious, or like it should be a given. However, I’ve seen software projects derailed by end-users who didn’t like the initial changes and weren’t patient enough to give it a try. If you’ve done your homework on a software vendor, their software works. If disgruntled end users “smell blood” in the form of weak support on behalf of management, this can be a disaster. Make sure top management is on the same page, and that they will do whatever it takes to support the successful implementation of your new software.
Get a strong project manager on YOUR side. Your vendor will have a project manager, but you need one too. If you think you can sign a contract and the vendor will take care of everything, you are mistaken. There will be bumps in the road, disagreements with your vendor, and there will be push-back from your staff in many cases, as mentioned above. This project manager will be the voice of the agency, and all vendor requests and communication should flow through them. Good communication and follow-up is key for any project.
Get staff buy-in. Change is hard, especially when you’re doing something a certain way for a long period of time. Changing software at your home care agency can be traumatic. Buy-in is essential, so including staff in the process is key. The best way to do this is by finding your key influencers that others in your organization look to as leaders. Getting their buy-in will pay dividends when you encounter the unavoidable bumps in the road during implementation.
Some agencies go so far as to have a kick-off party to rally the staff and get them prepared not only for change, but for the challenges that will be encountered.
Be honest with your staff- this is something you’re investing in for the long-term benefits of your agency. There will be some changes in their processes, but they will adapt. I remember an implementation I did 10 years ago when an intake nurse told me “After our first training, I didn’t sleep that night. I asked myself how I would possibly learn this. Now, after a few months, I can’t imagine going back.”
Be patient and open-minded with the software you choose. Often after choosing a new software and implementing, you’ll learn the new software doesn’t operate the same way as the old. Is this because an enhancement request is in order, or because the agency is hanging onto old processes that are often inefficient and cumbersome? When you’re implementing software, just remember there is a reason you decided to leave your old software behind. Just because your old software was the right choice at one point in time, it doesn’t mean it’s the right choice to get you where you’re going in the future!
Selecting the right software will feel more like a partnership, where there is a vested interest in mutual success. Take your time, do your research, and do your best to enjoy the process as a learning experience. There are many, many options out there.
Good luck in your search!