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Behavioral health software is a type of electronic medical records (EMR) software that is designed for the unique needs of the behavioral health specialties. Government reforms for medical practice regulations, improved access to internet and mobile technologies, and greater adoption of EMR software means that patients have come to expect the ease of use and connectivity provided by a specialty practice management software.
Mental and behavioral health providers have unique needs compared with many other medical specialties. 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, and other licensed therapists and their support staff. 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
While many practices will need similar features, some small practices may not need a fully-featured behavioral health software to meet their patients’ needs and stay under budget. We’ve chosen three behavioral health software vendors for different practice sizes.
Best for: Practices of all sizes, but especially smaller organizations
Taking a true software-as-a-service approach to electronic medical records, PIMSY offers behavioral health professionals three different pricing tiers for their software: Prime, Professional, and Platinum. The difference in tiers mainly centers on help and support. Prime offers email and chat support tickets. In contrast, Platinum includes email support, phone support, and live web training.
The ability to choose between pricing offers organization some freedom in terms of total spending.
PIMSY’s platform offers users standard EHR capabilities with a mix of practice management functions. For example, schedules form a large part of this system’s functionality. Team notes are created based on clients in the system’s schedule, as are treatment plans. Both of these features are simple to use: team notes allow physicians to easily collaborate on SOAP notes, while commonly used treatment plans can be turned into templates for later use. PIMSY’s website even brands team notes as a two minute process.
PIMSY also includes e-prescribing through a native Digital Rx application, meaning users can do all the necessary ordering inside the EHR system. However, this function is only available in the Platinum edition. Billing options are also available through integration with two third parties: Aym Technologies and Psych Med Billing.
PIMSY works well for organizations of all sizes, but its tiered pricing structure and easy-to-use interface make it ideal for smaller organizations that prefer simplicity over larger, more comprehensive feature sets.
Best for: Large organizations
The most widely used behavioral health EHR, CareLogic was developed in the 1980s for use by a nationwide behavioral health organization. Since then the platform has been updated and refined into a comprehensive web-based EHR that supplies clinicians with electronic medical records capabilities, as well as billing and practice management options.
Although the CareLogic has evolved to meet the demands of the EHR market, it remains geared towards larger organizations. The sheer number of features included in this platform can be overwhelming for some users, so a learning curve is expected. However, once you sort out the interface and system capabilities, you’ll find CareLogic is very customizable, and can be molded to fit the work of providers throughout the continuum of care.
That’s the true goal of CareLogic: to be the connection between different points of care through the continuum. To get the most out of CareLogic it’s best to use this system in multiple care settings, such as community health centers, in-patient hospitals, and even home care settings.
CareLogic also released a real-time reporting tool this year that generates a range of reports on employee productivity, financial and administrative data, and perhaps most importantly, clinical outcomes. Using this tool, you can quickly track a patient’s progress against a baseline to establish whether your organization is meeting appropriate quality measures and identify opportunities for improvement.
Best For: Small organizations
Developed by Aym Technologies, OnTarget is another electronic health record system designed to meet the specific requirements of behavioral health professionals. While OnTarget may command less market share than the previous products, its unique interface and deep customization options make it an excellent choice.
Foregoing the Windows-esque design of many other EHRs, OnTarget displays information in a bold, easy-to-view interface. Given the range of specialties and business models underneath the behavioral health umbrella, customization plays an integral role in EHR usability, and OnTarget delivers in this area. Customizing the program is quite simple. Field labels, templates, lists, and even modules are all easily editable from within the program’s main dashboard.
OnTarget also includes a number of practice management tools, including a module for tracking employee credentials, which helps behavioral health organizations keep their certifications in line and their records up to date. Further, this cloud-based EHR pushes important reminders to users about unapproved or unfinished documentation, an essential feature for ensuring paperwork is completed in a consistent fashion.
Finally, OnTarget generates billing reports that helps you identify which sessions have been billed and which are still open. After you’ve accrued enough data, you can analyze the billing performance of your practice over the previous months, or even years.
There are several other considerations to be made when purchasing software for your mental and behavioral health practice or facility.
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 on-premise systems.
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.
Physicians or organizations attesting or who plan to attest for Meaningful Use incentives need to make sure 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.
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 all-in- 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 custom development.