Mental and behavioral health providers have historically had low adoption rates
for electronic medical records and other health IT software. Considering the relative
absence of Meaningful Use incentives for mental and behavioral health providers, it
is little surprise that many providers have opted out of the burden of implementing
what can be a costly system. However, the Affordable Care Act and Mental Health
Parity and Addiction Equity Act have increased the importance of health IT adoption
by mental health providers for care coordination, patient engagement, and overall
Mental and behavioral health providers have unique needs when compared to
many other medical specialties. Most generic medical software systems don’t satisfy
their requirements, and most specialty-specific solutions don’t include all the
functionality needed, usually necessitating the creation of a custom healthcare IT
solution for each provider or facility.
Mental and behavioral health professionals can work in numerous environments
including private offices, outpatient clinics, large inpatient rehabilitation centers,
or long-term care facilities. Most software systems are intended for some, but not
all of these environments, so be certain to select an option that includes support
for your specific workflow and care delivery model. All of the systems included in
this category should satisfy the needs of Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Clinical Social
Workers, or other licensed therapists and their support staff. Software in this category
can be split into two main subcategories: software to manage the administration and
workflow of your practice, and software that helps manage your patient records and
care delivery. We’ll take a look at each of these specialties, then highlight some of the
market leaders in behavioral health software.
Software that manages the administrative side of your practice or care facility can
include, but is not limited to: patient scheduling software, appointment reminder
software, billing or coding software, hospital information systems, etc. For the
purposes of this guide, and for overall simplicity, it is called practice management
software. It usually includes functions for:
Input patient demographic information, such as name, age, address, health
history, etc. Some software supports pre-registration, where patients can input this
information themselves ahead of time. Some systems offer a tablet interface that
allows the front desk to hand the patient a tablet instead of a form.
Schedule patient appointments. Some software includes support for appointment
reminder automation either built-in, or through an integrated third-party vendor.
Manage facilities, such as room schedules, equipment use, tracking, or
maintenance. Features such as these tend to be less common, and are usually only
found in institutional or other enterprise-level solutions.
Insurance and Billing
Platforms with insurance and billing features can handle send bills, superbills, and
other payment management functions. Software with claims management can
handle billing codes and all other reimbursement management. Most software
includes support for other third-payers and also self-pay. Some vendors also offer
complete third-party revenue cycle management, either themselves or through
direct relationships with third-party medical billing and coding specialists.
Software that manages the clinical aspects of your practice or organization
can include electronic health records software, electronic medical software,
e-prescribing software, patient portal software, etc. It usually includes functions for:
Charting / Notes
The software supports clinician documentation, usually through a familiar patient
chart or note-taking interface for progress notes.
Software that includes order management features usually supports computerized
physician order entry. For inpatient facilities, this could also include physician
orders for nurses or other medical and support staff.
Software with e-prescribing ability allows physicians to use a built-in electronic
prescription pad and interface with popular services such as SureScripts. Many
systems for mental and behavioral health professionals lack e-prescribing
capabilities, so if it is needed for your practice, make sure to check if it includes or
supports a third-party e-Prescribing interface.
While it can’t truly be called clinical software, a patient-facing internet portal is
a requirement for certain in and outpatient medical providers and facilities to
guarantee certain incentives, to be discussed a bit later. These systems may or may
not include the ability to bill and accept payments from patients electronically,
allow patients to request or schedule their own appointments online, or allow them
to view, download, and transmit their health information.
PIMSY, developed by Smoky Mountain Information Systems, founded in 2007, is a relatively new entrant to the health IT marketplace, but already has garnered favorable reviews from users and health IT experts. It is fully certified for both stages of the Meaningful Use Incentive Program, which is relatively uncommon for a behavioral health software program. It is a modular system, allowing providers to select either a full range or just the functionality desired, and includes several pricing tiers, depending upon the functionality selected. It is primarily web-delivered, meaning providers don’t have to invest in expensive on-site servers, and can access the software from any Windows device (a Mac version is currently in development, as of November, 2014). PIMSY can be installed in a traditional on-site server architecture, but is significantly more expensive up-front and requires that practices invest in dedicated hardware. PIMSY has received high marks in almost all areas from several independent ratings agencies, especially for customer service and flexibility.
There are several other considerations to be made when purchasing software for your mental
and behavioral health practice or facility.
Cloud vs. On-Premise
Choosing between a cloud or on-premise software solution means deciding whether you want to
install the software on-site, using your own servers, or instead access the system via the internet
(and rely on the vendor for hosting). Cloud-based systems are usually delivered through a web
browser based interface, but some offer a purpose-built application. The systems are priced
differently as well; cloud-based systems are usually paid via a monthly or annual subscription,
and may or may not include additional fees for certain services. On-premise systems usually
have a much higher upfront cost, and sometimes can require multiple licenses, depending upon
whether or not the vendor charges per user, physician, or facility. In general, smaller practices will
want to look at cloud software, while large healthcare networks are better equipped to manage
What size of practice or institution will this system serve? Is it an inpatient or outpatient facility?
Solo providers have a great many more software options than institutions or other large care
delivery organizations. There are also some systems that can scale and satisfy the needs of small
or large user groups, usually through modular, cloud-based software licenses.
Consider what sort of input interface best suits the needs of your practice and processes.
Some systems offer traditional keyboard/mouse input, others a touch or stylus tablet-based
interface. Others offer built-in voice recognition, or support third-party applications. One benefit
of browser-based cloud-delivered software is that it usually can be accessed on a tablet or
smartphone, allowing the provider to choose which interface works best for them.
Meaningful Use Certification
Physicians or organizations attesting or who plan to attest for Meaningful Use incentives need
to make sure that the systems selected are certified for the appropriate stage of the incentive
program. It is also important to note that there has been some attrition of systems as stages have
progressed, many systems that were certified for Stage 1 have not yet been certified for Stage 2.
Make sure any vendor you select has the same commitment to Meaningful Use as your practice,
and has plenty of development bandwidth to support new requirements for Stage 3 and beyond.
All-in-One or Standalone Solution
Lastly, mental and behavioral health providers must decide whether they want an all-in-one,
modular, or several standalone software solutions. All-in-one systems can have a lower total
cost of ownership, but if it lacks certain features, options are limited. Modular, pre-integrated
medical software systems allow providers to pick and choose systems or features, but often
selecting all or a majority of the modules can be more expensive than purchasing a similar allin-
one solution. Providers may also attempt to construct a solution with products from different
vendors. This option can often provide the best fit to a unique situation, but can often result in
duplicate data entry or other inefficiencies if the systems cannot be integrated without expensive
As always, our Technology Advisors are available to answer your questions about the software and technology needs of your practice. Our no-cost, no-obligation advice has already helped hundreds of medical providers manage the various vendors and purchasing process for their software needs. Call or email us today for a free list of custom software recommendations, tailored to meet the unique needs of your practice.