Successfully navigating a practice management system conversion

Let's face it, converting to a new practice management (PM) system can be challenging. Change is never easy, and without careful planning the implementation could be even harder than you expect. There is good news, however: Physician practices that thoughtfully consider the implementation process will have the most success in realizing a painless transition. Following are a few crucial points to keep in mind.

Consider it an opportunity
One of the greatest risks in converting to a new PM system is that a practice will design the new system to match its current workflow -- even if that workflow is out-of-date, cumbersome or risk-prone. Although it may seem easier to stick with the familiar, in the long term, this approach could cause your practice some sticky problems. Throwing good technology at bad processes won't fix the bad processes, but it can negate the value of good technology. In the best case, you won't gain any efficiency from the new PM system; and in the worst case, you will not be using the system to its full potential, or you will be using it incorrectly, which may ultimately impact cash flow. Not to mention the fact that you will have spent a great deal of money on functionality you're not using.

To avoid this risk, take time before implementation and examine your revenue cycle holistically, identifying areas for possible improvement. Looking for opportunities for standardization and centralization may be a good place to start. For example, does registration occur the same way across your practice? Are your visit types standardized for easy comparison? Is there a way to centralize your business office?

Seek out best practices for revenue cycle management -- such as proactive eligibility verification, claims scrubbing and denials management -- and redesign your workflow to embrace them.

Look at current reporting and business intelligence, and perform a gap analysis to determine the differences between the reports you generate today and the reports you think you need for tomorrow. By building in these reports before the conversion, you can have a more efficient PM system as soon as you go live.

Identify an expert
Most PM system vendors have an implementation methodology that streamlines the conversion process and helps you get up and running quickly. While beneficial in many ways, these methodologies may be insufficient if your practice has unique business requirements that don't jive with the vendor's process.

To overcome this risk, it is important to have a strong leader who works closely with the vendor to shepherd your practice through the transition. This person should be very familiar with your practice's revenue cycle workflow and business needs so he or she can ensure that the implementation process effectively supports the workflow and meets the needs. In some cases, it may be helpful to identify an outside resource to offer assistance. This individual should appreciate both the practice and vendor perspectives in order to realize a smooth transition.

Get multiple perspectives
In addition to a strong leader, your practice should involve staff from across the practice in implementation. Physicians, nurses and business office staff should all be included in the endeavor. Should your practice have an electronic health record, it is critical that the individual or individuals in charge of that system be involved with the PM implementation process. This will ensure that the two systems integrate well and deliver optimal performance.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." This Ben Franklin adage has some merit when it comes to PM conversions. The more your practice plans for implementation, the better outcomes you will achieve as a result.

Brad Boyd is vice president, Culbert Healthcare Solutions, a professional services firm serving healthcare organizations in the areas of operations management, revenue cycle, clinical transformation and information technology.