In this article...
Ambulatory software keeps track of digital patient records so healthcare professionals can more access what they need while providing care. While ambulatory software can include practice information, it’s more focused on patient interactions and their direct care, such as diagnoses, prescriptions, referrals, surgical histories, and treatment plans. Ambulatory software is also more suited for small practices and outpatient services.
It’s especially valuable for patients who need long-term care. Ambulatory software makes it simple to look back on patient histories to spot patterns or recurring symptoms, and medical staff can look back on previous illnesses, injuries, or surgeries to find connections to current conditions. And because the records are digital, patients can access medical information through patient portals.
This guide will help introduce the three main types of ambulatory software, a list of market-leading vendors within each subset, and a case study of a popular ambulatory software solution.
Ambulatory software is a nebulous term — it can encompass many different electronic systems used within an ambulatory care setting, including simple word processing software or an email client. For the purposes of this guide, we will limit the discussion to the most used software systems to manage ambulatory workflows, ambulatory patients, and ambulatory billing.
At the core of most ambulatory software is the electronic health record (EHR). Initially designed to be a simple replacement for legacy paper charts, EHRs today serve as the central repository for all patient or care-related information, such as laboratory orders, progress notes, medication lists, etc. To learn more about EHR, see our comprehensive buyer’s guide to EHR software.
The following ambulatory software vendors all offer highly-rated ambulatory EHRs.Each of these vendors also offer pre-integrated practice management and patient portals, so you can build a holistic software environment supported by a single vendor.
While the EHR may be the central repository for all clinical information and processes, practice management systems serve as the repository for all administrative information and functions at your practice, such as patient registration, appointment scheduling, workflow management, etc. For many physicians’ offices, practice management systems are also the primary billing interface. To learn more about practice management systems, see our comprehensive buyer’s guide to practice management software.
The following software vendors offer practice management systems designed for ambulatory or private practice settings. Each of these vendors also offer pre-integrated EHR and patient portal software, so you can build a holistic software environment supported by a single vendor.
An increasingly important part of any ambulatory software environment is robust patient portal software. At many ambulatory facilities, the patient portal serves as the primary method of electronic communication between patients and providers. Patients can use portals to request appointments or prescription refills, view lab results, or securely message their physician with questions or concerns. Increasingly these systems are including more innovative features such as online bill pay or automated appointment reminders. To learn more about patient portal software, see our comprehensive buyer’s guide to patient portal software.
The following software vendors offer standalone patient portal software designed for ambulatory or private practice:
Though many ambulatory facilities rely on their practice management solution for their medical billing processes, standalone medical billing software is still used by a large number of providers to submit insurance or Medicare/Medicaid claims and manage accounts receivable electronically. Additionally, some ambulatory facilities outsource their revenue cycle management entirely, instead contracting with a third-party billing and coding services provider; these services usually require the use of a standalone medical billing system that they can access remotely.
The following software vendors offer medical billing software suitable for ambulatory facilities. Some are billing-only solutions, but the majority offer multiple ambulatory software tools, including EHR/EMR and practice management systems.
Company: Raritan Family Healthcare1
Raritan Family Healthcare (RFH), a five provider family practice clinic in Raritan, N.J., adopted Cerner’s Ambulatory EHR, e-prescribe, and Specialty Practice Managment (SPM) software in June of 2008. Within ten months the practice realized 100 percent return on investment. Dr. Joseph Scalia, one of Raritan’s physicians, said the EHR solution has saved the practice between $300–$500 a month in paper chart supplies, and has enabled RFH to reduce its full time staff by five.
“Our payroll is down 10 percent and maybe a little more. We were at 42 employees and now we are at 37. The system has already paid for itself.” — Dr. Joseph Scalia
During the first week of implementation, Raritan adjusted its patient load to allow office staff time to adapt to the new system. According to Dr. Scalia, the clinic saw one to two patients per hour when the EHR was initially implemented, but within a week, the practice was back to its full schedule.
Since the rollout, one of the main benefits to RFH has been the time savings from e-prescribing:
“Prior to e-prescribe, we had one person who solely made phone calls to pharmacies on prescription refills. With e-prescribe, we no longer need a person dedicated to calling pharmacies, so that has saved us eight hours a day.” — Dr. Joseph Scalia
Patients love e-prescribe, says Dr. Scalia, because the pharmacy can start filling an electronic prescription before the patient arrives — so there’s no waiting.
Cerner’s Ambulatory EHR also allows clinicians to share pre-completed notes with each other. Dr. Scalia says this helps him get ideas from his colleagues on how to document within the EHR. Pre-completed notes save RFH 1.5–2 hours per day.
“We save three to five minutes per office visit with pre-completed notes.” — Dr. Joseph Scalia
Overall, staff and patients are impressed with the adoption of Cerner Ambulatory EHR; according to Scalia, “Patients like the EHR because they have more confidence in our office as we use better documentation technology.” Finally, Dr. Scalia says “an added bonus with Cerner’s EHR is that we have a much cleaner and less cluttered office because no paper charts are hanging around.”
When you compare ambulatory software solutions there are a number of factors to consider. One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether or not you’ll use a cloud-based system or one deployed on a local server. Both options have benefits and drawbacks:
Another decision that must be made when choosing ambulatory software is whether or not you’d like a modular ambulatory software solution or an all-in-one ambulatory software system. As with cloud versus on-premises, there are a number of benefits and drawbacks to each type of solution.
Last but not least, you’ll need to decide whether or not you want a generic, specialty-agnostic software solution or one tailored for your specific specialty. If you operate a multi-specialty ambulatory facility, a specialty-agnostic solution will likely be the best fit. In contrast, if you operate a single-specialty ambulatory clinic, a specialty-specific solution may be the best choice.