If you’re currently shopping for physical therapy software, you’ve most likely seen a myriad of initialisms. But what does all that alphabet soup mean? Well, 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).

EMR and RCM are the two initialisms you’ll see most as you shop around for your software. Sometimes, you’ll see vendors advertising an “all-in-one” solution, which implies the EMR and RCM live within one system. (This offering is what I like to call a jack-of-all-trades system.) Other vendors will tout an “integrated solution,” which is basically a fancy term for an EMR or RCM system that integrates with other softwares. (This is the best-of-breeds scenario.)

The “all-in-one”—or jack-of-all-trades—solution might seem alluring, but your business is like Cinderella: only one glass slipper truly fits. And the all-in-one solution needs to fit a lot of feet—er, clinics—which means the software errs on the side of generic. That’s not necessarily the right solution for your business. Furthermore, in addition to not integrating with any other software (which leaves you with only one option for an RCM-EMR combo), chances are this vendor will offer up its EMR for free—and then charge you a higher percentage per reimbursement for billing. This scheme means the more money you make, the greater your vendor’s cut. You want to use a billing software that takes the smallest percentage possible, right? Nothing is free in business, so don’t get sweet-talked into a free EMR only to get financially blindsided by an overcharging RCM.

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Conversely, integrated software allows you to pair the EMR that best suits your documentation and scheduling needs with the RCM software that best suits your accounts receivable (AR) and accounts payable (AP) needs. Then, through the integration, they work in tandem—and you get the best of both worlds. Here’s how it works:

  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.

So, how do you choose your EMR and RCM? I recommend shopping for your EMR first. Here are some EMR must-haves to get you started:

  • Features a PT-specific design, with:
    • Specialty templates.
    • Therapy-specific SOAP note workflow.
    • Built-in compliance safeguards.
  • Is entirely web-based, which means no downloading, installing, or manually maintaining anything. (Don’t be fooled by “web-enabled” offerings.)
  • Provides unlimited, top-notch customer support—at no extra cost.
  • Excels at documentation and scheduling, and integrates with RCM software. (Make sure you ask for the full list of systems with which it integrates.)
  • Features an easy, flexible, and well-documented training and implementation plan—one that’s included and customizable to your practice.
  • Offers straightforward pricing that scales with your business’s growth.

Beyond using this list, I recommend referring to these resources for additional guidance:

Once you choose an EMR, it’s time to find a billing software. Refer to the EMR’s list of integrated partners. This will help you narrow your focus. In addition to an EMR integration, here are a few other RCM must-haves:

  • The software—and its service, if you choose to use it—have specialty and regional specialization.
  • It has Medicare requirements covered.
  • It’s ready for ICD-10.
  • It has a rock-solid uptime rate and great reviews.
  • It includes free customer service.
  • It isn’t server-based.

Depending on your clinic’s needs, you might have to add to this must-haves list. I recommend evaluating your current process to determine what you like and what you’d like to improve upon.

Now that you’re primed for a streamlined physical therapy software shopping excursion, it’s time to get out there and do it. Don’t let the online ads, sales people, and inundation of information overwhelm you. Stick to your guns, and remember you know your clinic best. Ultimately, the EMR and RCM should work together beautifully, but remember, this relationship is a trio—not a duo. And you’re the most important part of the dynamic.

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