After nearly ten years in sales and marketing, I’ve heard—and probably used—every figure of speech imaginable. Whether we’re advising to not count your chickens before they hatch or imploring that you not cry over spilled milk, we use these phrases to succinctly make our points. Perhaps that’s why we’re seeing a debate unfold in our industry pitting “best-of-breed” solutions against “jack-of-all-trades” software. And with our very own Heidi Jannenga deeming 2015 as “the year of the EMR switch,” this debate has never been more timely. Let’s delve a little deeper:

What’s the Difference?

In the physical therapy industry, clinics primarily rely on two software solutions to do business:

  1. EMR, which provides documentation and scheduling
  2. Revenue cycle management (RCM), which handles accounts receivable (AR) and payable (AP).

With the jack-of-all-trades scenario, a vendor attempts to offer both of the above solutions within one software. With the best-of-breed scenario, EMR and RCM vendors integrate their individual softwares to create one merged solution.

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The Case Against Jack-of-all-Trades

A jack-of-all-trades software requires you to use its EMR and RCM. It’s one entity, and regardless of which individual features you like, you’re stuck with the whole package. That’s why the phrase “jack of all trades” is so fitting: The vendor will claim to do it all, and it may be able to, but how well? Remember, the old “jack-of-all-trades” saying ends with “master of none”—and this often is the case with a jack-of-all-trades software. It’s a generalist—enough to get by, but not specialized enough to exceed any expectations.

A jack-of-all-trades vendor will boast that it’s an “all-in-one solution,” but “all-in-one” doesn’t mean it’s all that good. Why else would so many jack-of-all-trades vendors give aspects of their software away at no cost? (For example, “You buy our software, and we won’t charge you for the documentation portion of the software.”) To use another figure of speech, you get what you pay for, and if you’re not paying anything, then, well, you get my point. To make matters worse, according to tech site Dr. Chaos, “Most of these complimentary products do not make any…industry-accepted lists…for quality of technology” and “have major gaps in development and features that often lead to gaps in security and compliance.” Talk about disaster waiting to happen.  

The Case for Best-of-Breeds

You found an EMR you love; it does everything you need, and then some. You also found a RCM you love; it maximizes your revenues like nothing else. Now, here’s the best part: The EMR and RCM integrate, which means:

  1. You use the EMR for documentation and scheduling.
  2. Billing data flows into the RCM via the integration.
  3. You use the RCM for AR and AP.
  4. Voila! You have the best possible experience, because you’re using the best software for each job.

In the best-of-breeds world, you get to use the software you like most, and they integrate to provide one business solution for your practice. So why is this scenario better than the jack-of-all-trades? As Dr. Chaos explains, “Best of breed products pride themselves on streamlining their operations for their products, and providing solutions that are easy to learn and easy to configure…since they are concentrating on one solution, the product they provide is a very good one. After all, that is why they are best of breed.” Basically, an EMR knows how to provide documentation and scheduling. It’s not going to do more than that; it sticks to what it knows—what it’s the expert at. Same goes for an RCM with AR and AP.

Furthermore, according to Dr. Chaos, “when customers need support, best of breed vendors are usually more responsive and efficient, not only because they understand their products very well from specializing in the solution, but also because they cannot…[make] up for the loss of revenue with complimentary products. In other words, they are much more motivated to keep your business.” This Virtual Hold article presents a similar argument, explaining that while a “single wringable neck” (i.e., one vendor relationship) is appealing, usually your service suffers: “…it is difficult to find experts to help you with each component of the all-in-one solution since your support call will be handled by their all-in-one help desk.” Another single-system downside: Once you’ve choked that throat, you’re out of options—a metaphoric dead end. No one wants a dead-end business solution, especially when patient documentation and reimbursements are involved.

Lastly, vendors that integrate are already talking to each other—making those key initial steps toward full interoperability. Jack-of-all-trades systems aren’t talking to anyone but themselves, which makes that whole interoperability thing tricky.

A Real-Life Example

WebPT is the leading web-based EMR specifically for outpatient physical, occupational, and speech therapy. We are the best-of-breed EMR in the rehab therapy industry, and we integrate with all industry billing software. So, with us, you get the best in documentation and scheduling—plus a wealth of other great services, including reporting and registry-based PQRS—and you can choose to integrate with whatever billing software best suits your business needs. (As an aside, WebPT does offer a billing service if you decide you want a dedicated billing team to go along with your billing software integration.)

Another common figure of speech: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. When you go with a single system—the jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none software—you’re doing just that. Don’t settle for one software that performs at a bare-minimum level for everything and excels at nothing. Instead, choose expert, specialized systems and let the integration work to your benefit. That way, you get everything you like, and nothing you don’t. That’s how running a business should be.