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Electronic health record (EHR) systems are a big financial commitment for the behavioral healthcare practice. While managers recognize the value of the automation, accessibility, and organization that an EHR provides, they must also be mindful of resources. Budgeting for an EHR can be a big challenge for a first time buyer. Behavioral healthcare practices that are thinking about implementing an EHR system should consider the following points.

SaaS versus Traditional Software Licensing Models

Software as a service (SaaS) is a subscription style business model where customers pay a recurring fee for using the software. The major benefit of the SaaS model is that the EHR vendor is typically in charge of conducting ongoing maintenance and product enhancements, effectively removing the burden of time and cost to maintain the EHR software that the practice would otherwise need to endure. In a traditional software licensing scenario, the practice purchases the software outright. The upfront cost is greater, but the practice isn’t subjected to ongoing subscription fees once the deal is done. Depending on the needs of the practice, this model could be cost effective, but managers need to be mindful of the maintenance costs for which they are responsible. A practice without its own IT department may find this model cost prohibitive if maintenance is an ongoing challenge. Furthermore, product enhancements come at an additional price. It is ultimately up to the practice to determine which model better serves its interests.

Transition and Productivity

Switching from one system to another can be a challenge, particularly for a behavioral healthcare practice. Accounts in the existing billing system, for example, will still need to be managed until they are seen all the way through—a process that typically takes three months—as new accounts are entered into the new billing system. Uploading demographic data and clinical notes into the new EHR is a cumbersome process, and often disrupts time that could be spent with patients. Familiarizing with the new system can be similarly disruptive. Many vendors provide thorough and personalized training to reduce productivity loss while learning how to use the new EHR, but some lost time should still be expected. The combination of navigating the learning curve of a new EHR and performing the extra tasks that go into the practice’s transition into a new system are worth considering when budgeting time and resources.

Return on Investment

The upfront costs may seem intimidating, but the right EHR will make the hard work during implementation pay off. Automation through software removes the human requirement for the completion of several tasks, increasing the operational efficiency and accountability of the practice. Over time the practice should expect to see value through improved collaboration, better continuity of care, and reduced liability should an audit occur. This is especially true for EHRs that offer integrated billing and practice management. Errors in billing can slow down the reimbursement process and result in a lower collections percentage. Budget-minded practices should consider streamlining the billing process through software to see significant improvements to their bottom lines. Making the transition to an EHR can be challenging without adequate visibility into important deciding factors. Practices that have a better idea of what to expect will in turn make a more informed decision in choosing an EHR that works for them.

Interested in learning more about what to expect when purchasing an EHR? Download our EHR Buyer’s Guide for Private Practices.