Practice management software has become an indispensable part of most healthcare practices. For most practice owners, choosing an appropriate system is an important decision and it can be tempting to save some money with a free practice management software solution. But, before you go ahead with a free option, read this article! You need to understand the risks of doing so and weigh up whether it’s worth it for your practice in the long-run.
In many ways, your software forms the backbone of your practice, allowing all employees to perform their duties while relying on the information and administrative support of the software. If your backbone were to be compromised there would be serious implications for your health, and the same holds true for your practice. The downsides of choosing the wrong software are serious and can have far-reaching consequences that can affect the management and the reputation of your practice.
We all know the saying:
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
But what you may not realise is that if you’re not paying for your practice management software, you could be putting your practice at risk. Building quality software takes time and investment, so unless you understand how the company is recuperating its cost through revenue, be very careful. Whether you’re currently using, or are considering using a free practice management software, there are a few things that you need to think about:
Risk #1 – The Security of Sensitive Client Information
One of the most important reasons for using practice management software is to protect your clients. Increasingly, healthcare practices are coming under scrutiny for the way that they manage and store sensitive client information. You need to have complete peace of mind that the provider you use is fully compliant with government regulations, operates ethically and that they use the latest in security standards and protocols to keep your client data safe.
When it comes to free practice management systems, it is especially important to read the fine print. When you sign up for practice management software (free or otherwise), make sure that you read the terms and conditions carefully, rather than just clicking to accept. Some providers allow you to use their software at no cost, but they have carefully worded fine print conditions that allow them access to use your practice’s and your clients’ data. There are some that we are aware of that collate this health data for research and marketing purposes – and most of the practices using this software probably don’t realise that they have inadvertently consented to allow their clients’ data to be shared, and they’ve accepted the responsibility of obtaining their clients’ consent. This has serious implications.
- Data collected – this will list the personal information that the software provider is collecting from both the patient and practitioner including treatments, service types, practitioner details, test results, and medical history.
- Permitted purposes of use – this outlines how the information can be used by the software provider and may include references to advertising and marketing, medical research by third parties, and promotional messages from other third parties.
- Patient consent – if the practitioner has given consent to share the data, then the person that was the recipient of the services (your clients) is required to have given consent, which needs to be obtained by the healthcare provider on the client’s behalf.
As the saying goes:
While most of us know this and accept that we use free products like Google and Facebook in exchange for them allowing advertisers to advertise to us, this business model is not appropriate when it comes to sensitive client health data.
Risk #2 – Limitations on Features and Integrations
Free solutions are going to provide core functionality that can be helpful if you’re just starting out but, in a short space of time, those limitations are going to inhibit your ability to grow.
The features that a practice needs will vary, but most can benefit from core functionality, including:
- Appointment calendar;
- A database for storing client information;
- Payments and Invoices;
- Automatic appointment reminders (SMS or email).
There are other useful functions that will add to your practice’s productivity, such as:
- A client portal;
- Automatic appointment confirmation or cancellations;
- Group SMS and email functionality;
- Clinical note templates;
- Communication templates;
- Telehealth Video Calls.
In addition to offering a very limited selection of features, it’s unlikely that free platforms will integrate with other systems that you use in your practice such as accounting, payment processing, and email providers.
This leads to frustration, re-work, and extra hours spent in front of the computer as you manually move information from one system to another. So, instead of having a solution that makes running your practice simpler, easier, and less stressful, you’ve actually added another set of tasks to your to-do list, as well as those of your staff members. Integrated back-office systems are essential if you want to prevent errors and inaccuracies from creeping in, as well as wasting everyone’s time unnecessarily.
Risk #3 – Hidden Business Models
There aren’t many around, so if you’re looking for a free practice management software solution, your choices are very limited. In most cases, the free versions exist to get you to use their software so that you’ll upgrade to a paid membership as your practice becomes limited by the free version’s functionality. These businesses count on you being too inconvenienced to bother changing to a different system and move your data across – so once they convince you to start with the allure of a free plan, they know that a good proportion will upgrade and pay real money – without considering other options.
The other monetisation strategy used by free practice management software companies is advertising. This can quickly become annoying as you try to run a business but are constantly navigating flashing banner ads (which are only removed if you upgrade to a paid version).
Risk #4 – Long-Term Viability Risks
Consider the investment needed for practice management software. Developing robust, useful software takes time, consistent effort, and financial investment. And, if the software is to stay relevant and secure in the long-run, there are going to be considerable ongoing costs for the development of future enhancements, customer support, security and more. A free practice management software will struggle to keep up with these needs if they are relying on advertiser revenue alone. This makes them vulnerable to going under, leaving you without a software solution, and possibly without access to your client records and appointment calendar. It’s also incredibly disruptive to have to change systems and processes down the line.
Another thing to check is whether the software is well established. Start-ups in the health niche are being launched every month from all corners of the globe, but very few stick around for the long-haul. Most start with a bang thanks to a lot of enthusiasm and a few successful rounds of seed funding, but that soon dries up, and you can be left with a bug-infested half-baked solution a year or two down the line.
Then, check how often updates are posted and how long it takes to get support for any questions or issues that you log. This will give you an idea of the customer support and the response to fix any issues that you can expect. You’ll also want to check their development roadmap to get a sense of how much development is still happening on the software and if there are any core features that will still be added.
Risk #5 – Hidden Costs
In most cases, a free practice management solution isn’t really free if you need to upgrade to the paid version to get the features you need. Before choosing a free software solution, look at the areas where your usage will be limited and decide whether you will need them in the future. When you compare the features and benefits, you’ll often find that the costs of upgrading are far higher than they would be with a paid-for solution. Also, before committing to a free software solution, check for lock-in contracts, minimum terms, or cancellation fees.
Risk #6 – Data Migration Costs
If you choose a free solution when you were getting your practice set-up, but have since grown and expanded, you’re probably facing the choice of upgrading or migrating to a different software option. Many of the providers offering free solutions use the lure of a free base package with limited features to encourage sign-ups, but as soon as you need those additional features, there’s a hefty price tag attached. Likewise, the time and financial cost of migrating a practice to a new, more affordable, paid-for service can be daunting, which means that you’re stuck in the middle, needing to make a decision, which will have an impact on the efficiency of your practice.
Also, something to watch for when signing up for a free practice management software: are you able to export your client information? Are there any costs associated with this? You should be able to do a data dump at the click of a button, but if the free software wants to keep you locked-in, they might make it difficult for you to leave by imposing a hefty data retrieval fee. Your business data belongs to you so you need to be sure that, if you leave, you can easily take your information with you.
Can you afford to choose a free practice management software solution?
It’s completely understandable that as a practice owner that you’re looking for ways to minimise costs within the practice. But if you’re going to skimp on your practice management software, it could end up costing you in the long-run. We’ve outlined six serious risks that could compromise your practice and your clients’ data security. From sharing sensitive client information to adding unnecessary manual steps in the administrative process, there is strong evidence that a paid-for solution is going to benefit your practice, as well as your clients, both now and going forward.
In contrast to the risks of a free solution, a robust, well-established premium practice management software is going to offer a range of productivity benefits for a health practice that are designed to boost your bottom line. And you might be surprised to find that the associated costs are a lot lower than you think. From faster payments, incredible features, and time-saving integrations to an impressive level of flexibility that allows you to customise the software to your needs and scale as your practice grows – the right choice of software can have a profound impact on your practice.
Like in most areas of life, the adage holds true; you usually get what you pay for! So, if you’re serious about your health clinic, don’t take short-cuts on something that is so vital to your operations. Know that a good practice management system will pay for itself in multiples over time, so make the (small) investment in a system that will set your practice up for success.