It can be a bewildering challenge trying to figure out the difference between various software tools commonly used by medical practices and facilities providers. One common tool is Medical Practice Management (MPM) software; the other is an Electronic Health Record system. They do two distinctly different jobs and help with different areas of healthcare operations.
What is Medical Practice Management Software?
Practice Management software helps with the day-to-day work that goes on in a medical office. It bridges the gap between some types of clinical work, such as the documentation of diagnosis and procedure codes, and other clerical work such as scheduling patient appointments, verifying insurance, and managing medical billing tasks. However, MPM is much more weighted toward the clerical work. It’s about managing patient flows and general documentation for the medical office as a whole, and less about patient documentation. While you might find patient identifiers in MPM, there should be scant medical data involved.
What is an Electronic Health Record System?
An electronic health record system is an overall digital system that stores patient information in a digital way. An EHR is a modern and comprehensive tool that often includes such different elements as chart notes, patient histories, demographics, allergy information, test results, and diagnosis coding, along with various other types of information that are useful throughout the clinical life cycle of patient treatment. EHRs have been promoted by the federal Department of Health and Human Services and incentivized by laws like the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health or HITECH Act as a way to help doctors meet federal meaningful use standards and generally improve the quality of patient care through improving documentation models.
The Difference Between MPM and EHRs
One simple way to think about this is that while MPM handles aspects of practice management, EHR is a very patient centered resource, and the two may not overlap to any great extent. It’s also helpful to understand the role of an Electronic Medical Record (EMR), which is similar to EHR but very practice-centered. (see more from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). For example, an Electronic Medical Record may only contain documentation that’s proprietary to the specific medical office – it will not usually be “portable” in the ways that EHRs are portable. So experts often talk about MPM being linked up to EMR, but they don’t talk as often about MPM being linked up to EHRs. In some ways, you could see the EMR as the “middleman” in this equation — a solution that’s practice-centered but still somewhat clinical in nature, that integrates with MPM.
The bottom line is that all of these services have become more diversified and full of specialized components to help practices do everything from patient consultation to billing. Shoppers have to look for the specific features and functionality that they need, and understand how each vendor service is going to integrate into a bigger software architecture. For example, practices may rely on broader EHR systems for almost all of their software needs, but integrate a certain amount of functionality from an MPM resource, just in order to manage the administrative aspects of the office. But again, most of the clinical information will either be in an EMR or an EHR setup. This setup might be fully integrated into other parts of the IT architecture, so that data flows through easily without being kept in data silos.
One way to handle the challenge of shopping for these various tools is to look at many systems side-by-side in a selection platform. A handy software selection site presents many different types of systems together, so that you can see what features and functionality they have. Shoppers can do research by clicking into various systems looking at the specific tools they offer, and starting to understand more about what’s standard in the industry and how the average medical practice runs on these tools. However, vendors are also willing to customize to a particular provider’s needs, so in-depth conversations with vendors can also be useful. Those who are responsible for procuring this type of software have to think about cost, functionality and transparency, as well as how to set up and keep good vendor relationships, and how to understand Service Level Agreements, to make sure the provider is getting value for cost.