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What to consider when shopping for your mental health practice

Private mental health practices must operate within tight budget constraints. As such, they are generally cautious as to what investments they are willing to make, for mismanaging business decisions can very easily result in budget shortfalls.

An EHR system is a significant investment, and one a private practice should never take lightly. Month-to-month EHR subscriptions or free trials, as opposed to full annual commitments, might seem appealing to the budget-conscious practice manager. If the solution doesn’t work out, for example, a month-to-month EHR contract or a free trial is a lot easier to pull out of. This gives the practice a stronger sense of control, and while control is good, there is a downside to working with vendors on an ad hoc basis.

The best time to determine product fit is before diving into a contract altogether. Learn to ask the right questions during the conversation with the vendor in our EHR Buyer’s Guide here.

Product commitment is a two-way street

Practices can generally expect a vendor’s level of customer commitment to scale with the length of its contract. Vendors that have built their business models on a drop-in/drop-out relationship with their customer bases are neither anticipating nor accommodating long-term interaction. Implementation, training, and technical support are integral to a fruitful, ongoing business relationship, but can’t be realistically expected to wrap up inside of one month. Practices that are considering a month-to-month EHR contract with a vendor should know ahead of time what resources will be made available to them to ensure their success, and the same applies to free trials.

Learn more about why free EHRs aren’t actually free by clicking here.

Returns are realized over time

True value and customer success with an EHR solution develop over the long term. New EHR solutions typically observe a spin-up time while users become acclimated and learn how the system can shoulder clinical operations through automation. The value generated from streamlining practice workflows will eventually pay back the initial investment expense, but it doesn’t get there overnight. Over time as the EHR generates more time and opportunity, the practice will realize returns.

Similarly, practice managers must also consider what happens when an EHR system is not allowed to reach a point of returns for the practice. Adopting a new solution before achieving return on investment invariably erodes practice finances, even if the practice is accustomed to EHR shopping and can find a good rate with another vendor. Furthermore, depending on the outgoing vendor’s contract termination terms, the practice might be on the hook for departure fees. While this is more common with legacy vendors, it’s never a bad idea to review the agreement before committing to action.

Predictability is easier to budget

Practices have a much easier time maintaining budgets when costs are consistent and predictable. Having everything laid out over the course of the year makes annual contracts advantageous, as practice managers know exactly how much they will need to pay—no nickel-and-diming, no hidden costs. Practices on a month-to-month EHR contract must set aside additional funds to weather any number of surprises, such as unforeseen rate hikes or fees.

Budgeting for an EHR solution is a common challenge for the private practice, but a worthy investment. It is important for practice managers to think of value and success with an EHR solution over the long term, even if the lure of short-term agreements seems tempting.