The physical therapy profession is not one that is prone to jump on the bandwagon for fads just as the medical community at large is not likely to be susceptible to that kind of temptation. If there is a trend that could almost be seen as epidemic as a fad, it is the move toward automating the PT documentation function at the clinic level.
The natural inclination to go slow and evaluate carefully the pros and the cons of how your physical therapy clinic is going to work in an automated PT practice documentation environment is entirely appropriate. You should not be pressured to jump on the bandwagon until you are able to establish a high level of expectation and then find a PT practice documentation system that can live up to that high standard.
The first assumption that must be put under the microscope is that any PT documentation software solution is a good one. The second assumption that is a dangerous one is that just because a particular PT practice does well with a documentation software system, then it must be good for your practice. Both of those assumptions should be held up to the light and viewed with skepticism.
Implementing a PT practice documentation software system is no small undertaking. Any system that is going to do a comprehensive job of automating your PT documentation is going to come at a significant expense and it is going to represent a major change in how you operate internally. Any PT practice documentation system that will make the final cut and be eligible to become the backbone of how your practice manages this important function must be held to an exact standard. Here are five areas of scrutiny to apply to this decision.
- Ease of use
There a number of fronts that represents criteria of ease of use. Ease of use means ease of installation. The process of setting up your new PT practice documentation software system should not cause undue disruption to your practice. Ease of use also means ease of conversion of existing systems to your new software programs. If you already have other forms of automated billing or even simple structures like spreadsheets or Access databases, these should be easily converted to set up the new data retention systems you will need.
Ease of use obviously means that in the day-to-day operation, therapists and staff should be able to navigate the screens and understand how to set up, access and update patient records without difficulty. Training must be adequate and support must be responsive, not just before the sale but ongoing, so that new members of your team have no trouble using the new system.
- Don’t buy new headaches
“Up time” is a computer concept that simply refers to how often a software solution has problems, “goes down” or leaves you without service. Before you invest in a PT practice documentation software solution, do some work calling referrals and reading reviews. The software that will serve as your repository and access point for all of your patient data and PT documentation must come with a rock-solid assurance and reputation of virtually uninterrupted up time. Anything less introduces too much risk to your PT practice.
- But will it fit?
Depending on how much automation is already in your office, the introduction of a new PT practice documentation system means more computer stuff all over the place. It means computer terminals on every desk and in every treatment room so staff and therapists can get to patient data. It means printers and other peripherals that must be accessible to everyone. Take a look at the layout of your office after you get a firm idea of how much new hardware will be around. Make sure you can accommodate all of that new equipment. It is a simple logistical question but it is one worth asking.
- Patient data has to be somewhere
If you are keeping patient records using paper forms and files, you know where the data is. When you convert your practice to electronic PT documentation management, knowing the location of the data is not so easy to pin down, but even a digital data repository has to be somewhere.
It may exist on a server that runs in your back room. If so, there is a danger of a disk crash or some other computer crisis that could destroy your data. If the data is stored on the PT documentation software provider’s servers, how confident can you be that your patient data is safe there? What might happen if your relationship with the provider changes? Will you be able to download that data or migrate it to a different software solution without difficulty? These may be questions a PT practice documentation software company may not wish to be asked, but this is crucial information for you to know to avoid a potential crisis down the road.
- Is cyberspace safe for patient data?
A good PT practice documentation system is networked so that the data can be accessed anywhere. This is a selling point because a therapist will be able to tap into the patent data from his or her iPad or smartphone while on location outside of the clinic. Just like private data, however, before you invest in an extensive networked PT documentation software solution, you must confirm that the data is absolutely secure when it is accessed through the Internet. Security is a top priority because any compromise of your patients’ private medical and financial data is unacceptable.
These are tough questions, but they are exactly the kind of scrutiny that you must bring to this important transition in the life of your PT practice. There are outstanding PT practice documentation software providers that can live up to these high expectations without fail. Do not rest until you know that the software and the software provider that will handle the automation of your PT practice documentation can live up to a bar that you intentionally set this high.
“ We noticed an immediate improvement in consistent use of standardized outcomes measures for Medicare but also our private insurance patients. This was always a quality assurance goal but having the outcomes measures readily available in the records section of WebPT made it surprisingly easy for all clinicians to gather this data routinely. Our referrals appreciate the easy to read reports and the fact we can fax or email them very rapidly if they have an urgent request. Our patients also report they like that we are charting accurately and the improved communication with their other health care providers." Kenji Carp, Owner/Director, Cooperative Performance & Rehabilitation