Your Guide to Software Selection

Is Free Practice Management Software a Wise Choice?

One of the most common problems faced by small and mid-sized medical practices is finding enough time for the patients. Between setting appointments, billing, insurance, patient records and other paperwork, doctors often find it difficult to find enough time for actual treatment and diagnosis. But running an efficient practice goes beyond patient care.

In fact, the entire livelihood of a clinic depends on its ability to efficiently handle its administrative tasks. This means finding a way to quickly handle data entry and sorting is absolutely essential for making the practice profitable and successful.

That’s why more and more medical clinics choose to adopt practice management software. Also known as medical practice management, PM or MPM software, it can not only make running your day-to-day operations much easier, but also greatly improve the quality of your patient care in the process.

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Clinics that have been working for a long time usually have their own systems in place for dealing with day-to-day tasks. Often the administrative systems in place are quite efficient simply because they’ve been improved over time and with the growing experience of the staff.

But the opportunities for increasing efficiency that come with practice management software are very hard to ignore. Clinics can save an incredible amount of time by automating the manual parts of the various processes such as setting appointments, medical billing and insurance claims, just to name a few.

A comprehensive practice management software solution extends to every area of medical clinic operations, making everything more efficient. In turn, this frees up doctors to spend more time with their patients.

But some practices don’t have the resources to pay for a premium practice management software solution, so they end up looking for free alternatives that can provide similar functionality.

Can MPM Solutions Be Free?

While most of the leading medical practice management solutions cost money (lots of money, in some cases), there are free options that might be right for practices that don’t have the resources to pay for a premium option.

These can be separated into two main categories. The first one is free practice management software that supports itself by running ads on the software’s interface. As such, instead of a practice paying for the software, it’s paid for by advertisers who want to reach their target audience of doctors, nurses and other clinical staff. In order to remove the ads, vendors usually charge a fee per user, in which case it would no longer qualify as free software.

Another option is to use a free version of a premium software. This can work if all you need is a few simple functions, because the free versions of these software solutions are usually quite limited in terms of their functionality, especially when compared to the paid versions.

This kind of a free software solution are convenient if you want to test out a paid MPM software before purchasing it As a standalone solution, however, it’s quite limited because of the restricted functionality.

So the big question is, can free practice management software be sufficient for clinics? Or are there just too many drawbacks for it to potentially replace paid solutions? Well, here are some of the main benefits and drawbacks of a free solution, so you can shed some light on this topic.

Benefits

It’s Free

Obviously, the biggest benefit of free practice management software is that there aren’t any fees – at least not initially. You can enjoy the functionality and features that the software provides without having to pay recurring subscription fees that are usually associated with premium solutions.

As you surely know all too well, finding ways to reduce the expenses of running a practice is essential for its survival. According to one estimate, regional practices can cost up to $100,000, and metropolitan practices can run up the bill up to a staggering $500,000, so every dollar saved is very important.

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No Commitment

While there’s an implementation process for setting up a practice management software solution, whether it’s paid or free, the level of commitment with free options is much smaller when compared to some of the paid solutions.

Because of its somewhat limited functionality, free PM software solutions are often much easier to adopt and use in your day-to-day tasks. Whether it’s a cloud-based or on-premise software solution, with free practice management software it can often be as simple as logging in or downloading and installing the software on a computer.

Essential Features

Even though free PM software has its limitations, in the end, it’s a functional solution for practices that offers vital features such as billing, claims processing and scheduling, just to name a few.

If you use the free software to its full capabilities, you can reap tremendous benefits for your practice without having to pay a monthly fee.

So while it’s not likely that you’ll be able to find the same range of features as with paid solutions, that doesn’t mean that free practice management software isn’t still very useful.

Drawbacks

It’s Limited

While free solutions do provide core functionality that’s quite helpful, they still come stocked well short of the leading paid options that offer premium features.

The customization options are also very limited, and it may not integrate with other software that your clinic might be using. Even if integrating a system like EHR (Electronic Health Records) or EMR (Electronic Medical Records) is possible, it can be complicated when done with a free MPM solution.

The ability to easily integrate back-end systems is essential; otherwise, the staff is stuck manually transferring a lot of data, which is not only very time-consuming, but can also lead to numerous errors and inaccuracies in your data.

Hidden Costs

Sometimes a seemingly free PM solution can be deceptive. While you’re technically getting a free medical practice management solution, the limited functionality could end up forcing you to upgrade to the paid version.

That’s why it’s essential to carefully analyze what features are included in the free version, paying special attention to noticing where there are limitations to the usage of the software. Sometimes, you might get a bundle of core features for free but need to upgrade or purchase some additional features that you may discover are necessary.

Narrow Selection

Finally, a big problem with free MPM software solutions is that there simply aren’t that many of them available. Because practice management software is complex and needs to offer an extensive range of functionality, most of the free options that are available are either trial versions of paid solutions or rely on advertising for most of its revenue. Either way, the main goal of these free systems is to make practices switch to the paid version to either get the full range of features or turn off the ads.

When is Choosing a Free PM Software Solution a Wise Choice?

As it was quite evident from the previous section, free MPM software solutions have many limitations that make them inferior to most paid options. However, there are instances when a free software might be a wise choice.

If you’re a solo or small practice that’s just starting out, sometimes there simply isn’t any room in the budget for a paid PM system. In that case, even a free option is better than nothing. They can be a good alternative that provides at least some of the functionality you need in order to help make the practice run more efficiently.

Once the practice gets going and you get your feet under you, you can upgrade to the paid version. In this case, you’ll have an easier time adopting it since you already used the free version for a while.

Even still, before choosing a free PM system it’s important to consider the potential costs of the drawbacks associated with it. Some of the top reasons for why medical practices fail are related to poor management, so having a quality software solution to help handle your numerous day-to-day tasks can be a huge help in making sure that doesn’t happen.

This is why it’s a good idea to at least consider the additional features and benefits that the top medical practice software solutions can offer. Even if you have to pay a price for the premium option, the benefits it can bring to your practice are likely to far outweigh the initial costs in the long run.

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