What Is Medical Software? Your Complete Guide

By: Collin Couey on November 28, 2022

What Is Medical Software? Benefits, Types, and Considerations You Need To Know

If you’re a small practice owner that has just started your own independent practice, and you need to research and acquire software to get your practice up and running, we understand it can be difficult. With the thousands of options available for your EHR alone, not to mention patient scheduling, telemedicine, or medical billing software, it’s hard to know where to start or which of these options is the most important.

Practice owners who don’t have the right medical software with the necessary features will be leaving money on the table by not having the most efficient processes in place, which will hurt their chance of providing the best patient experience possible. This will also make it hard to attract and retain patients.

We have used Gartner’s “Market Guide for U.S. Ambulatory Electronic Health Records” [1] to explain and define some of the most important types of medical software for a practice, as well as the benefits and considerations you should think about when choosing the medical software for your practice.

Types of medical software

Whether you’re a large hospital or small practice, the basic types of medical software that you need to consider remains largely the same. Patient engagement, virtual care such as telemedicine and remote patient monitoring, and a focus on patient population health are crucial considerations for any practice—and medical software can help.

What is medical software?

Medical software is the broad term that describes any technology system that helps you manage the clinical and/or administrative actions necessary for your healthcare organization.

Many types of healthcare software automate the healthcare process from billing to patient scheduling, creating and managing patient records, prescribing medications, patient engagement, virtual care, scheduling, and more.

Electronic health records software

Electronic health records software (EHR), also sometimes called electronic medical records (EMR), is a software tool which allows healthcare practitioners to create, store, and update patients’ digital health records and medical history more easily and securely than paper charts.

Common features:

  • Digital charting

  • Order entry

  • Decision support

  • Clinical reporting

  • Care team communication

  • Medication management

In addition to making life easier and processes faster for healthcare workers, this software can also help physicians qualify for government incentives, meet regulatory requirements, and improve overall care quality.

Speaking of regulatory requirements, the HITECH Act Enforcement Interim Final Rule was passed in 2009 which required all healthcare organizations to move their physical patient records electronically [2].

For more information about EHRs including a list of their benefits, key considerations, and a list of additional resources, check out our buyers guide.

If you want a list of top products to get your search started, our FrontRunners are the place to go. Only products that earn top user ratings make the cut as FrontRunners.

Patient scheduling software

Patient scheduling software’s primary function is to reduce the amount of no-shows and last-minute rescheduling for healthcare organizations. Patient scheduling software helps practices manage, and sometimes even automate, the patient scheduling process.

This software helps practitioners, admins, and the patients themselves go into a calendar and choose available time slots for their next appointments. Additionally, the software will automatically send several appointment reminders to your patients’ preferred contact method to ensure they have the best chance of showing up.

The software can be purchased either as a standalone system, as an integrated part of an electronic health records (EHR) solution, or as an integrated part of a practice management suite.

Common features:

  • Digital appointment scheduling

  • Automatic reminders

  • Two-way calendar sync

  • Cancellation and rescheduling

An example of a patient-booking page on PatientPop

An example of a patient-booking page on PatientPop (Source)

The largest benefit of patient scheduling software is the reduction of no-shows or last-minute cancellations. Patients will have more reminders about their appointment without the need for your staff to waste their time calling and leaving voicemails.

For more information about patient scheduling software, including a list of their benefits, key considerations, and a list of additional resources, check out our buyers guide.

If you want a list of top products to get your search started, our FrontRunners are the place to go. Only products that earn top user ratings make the cut as FrontRunners.

Telemedicine software

Telemedicine software is any technology that enables a healthcare provider to diagnose or treat patients remotely using secure telecommunications tools such as video chats, phone, email, etc.

The software can be purchased either as a standalone system, as an integrated part of an electronic health record (EHR) solution, or as an integrated part of a practice management suite.

Common features:

  • Video conferencing

  • Instant messaging

  • Encryption and security protocols

  • Virtual waiting room

Virtual care has gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have in the healthcare industry due to the forced, rapid adoption required by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, according to a recent Software Advice survey about the state of telemedicine in 2022 [*], 92% of patients said that they are more likely to choose a provider that offers telemedicine over one that does not.

For more information about patient scheduling software including a list of their benefits, key considerations, and a list of additional resources, check out our buyers guide.

If you want a list of top products to get your search started, our FrontRunners are the place to go. Only products that earn top user ratings make the cut as FrontRunners.

Medical billing software

Medical billing software is a type of healthcare software used by healthcare organizations to automate their manual billing tasks. The primary function of medical billing software is to help a provider increase their collections by avoiding repetitive and cumbersome administrative tasks.

The software can be purchased either as a standalone system, as an integrated part of an electronic health record solution, or as an integrated part of a practice management suite.

Common features:

  • Verifying patients’ insurance

  • Processing and submitting claims

  • Processing payments

  • Following up on denied claims

Medical billing software allows you to be as efficient as possible when coding, submitting, and following up on claims with the cumbersome, paper-laden manual process.

Additionally, medical billing software helps your staff to code claims more accurately to avoid errors. That means your collections rates increase because you have to spend less time fixing unnecessary mistakes.

For more information about patient scheduling software including a list of their benefits, key considerations, and a list of additional resources, check out our buyers guide.

If you want a list of top products to get your search started, our FrontRunners are the place to go. Only products that earn top user ratings make the cut as FrontRunners.

Benefits of medical software for practice management

Patient care delivery is shifting away from large hospitals, and as a result, ambulatory, or outpatient, care is experiencing significant growth. In fact, physician office and clinic visits are expected to increase by 18% by 2029, and half of the 3.4 million estimated new jobs needed in the healthcare and social services industries are expected to be in the ambulatory care field by 2028 [1]. This growth is due to a few factors:

  • Medical innovation and advances in clinical practice that enable healthcare providers to deliver better quality care in outpatient care settings.

  • Shifts from fee-for-service to value-based reimbursement models that incentivize preventative care and keep patients healthy and out of the hospital.

  • Increasing consumer demand for outpatient services.

  • New direct-to-consumer models of care delivery, such as concierge medicine, that go around traditional third-party reimbursement models.

All this to say, it’s never been a better time to be a small practice looking for medical software because the focus is shifting away from enterprise-level healthcare organizations. That’s why it’s important to have a grasp on the different benefits you can reap while using medical software.

Medical software increases your ROI

The number one reason most practitioners make the switch from manual methods to software is the improvement in efficiency.

An electronic health record helps you not only have greater access to your patients’ records, but it also comes loaded with other features and functions that can make your staff’s lives easier.

For example, a patient portal allows patients to access their own health data. This not only saves your staff time since they don’t have to pull those files themselves, but it also provides your patient with more control and ownership over their health which can lead to better health outcomes.

Patient scheduling software allows your patients to schedule their own appointments either through a standalone product or through the portal. We mentioned it earlier, but you’ll also see returns on investment because you’ll have fewer no-shows, which gives your staff time to do more important tasks that will help grow the business.

Offering telemedicine allows you to expand the reach of your practice by marketing to rural areas that might not have as much access to doctors which in turn increases the number of patients you see a day which increases your ROI. Additionally, telemedicine is often more convenient and efficient for your patients and will also reduce the number of no-shows you get all while increasing the number of patients you see a day.

When evaluating your medical software, ask vendors to show you which of their processes are automated versus which you have to manually input.

  • Does the patient scheduling software send automatic reminders so that you have less no-shows or cancellations?

  • Does the EHR have native voice dictation capabilities that can transform speech to text? This can help you and your staff spend less time entering patient data on your system compared to manual methods.

  • Does the medical billing software have specific features designed to speed up the coding and billing process that will help you staff complete it in less time than doing it manually?

Medical software improves patient experience, engagement, and satisfaction

One of the less tangible benefits of adopting a variety of different types of healthcare software is the increase in patient experience, engagement, and satisfaction. We’ve written a lot about patient experience and patient engagement because it’s a crucial part of successful practice management.

Americans spend, on average, over $12,000 annually on healthcare [3], so losing patients can lead to large losses of revenue. Additionally, the cost to acquire new patients is often much higher than the cost of retaining current patients, so it’s important to keep them engaged.

While having a focus on customer service is an important aspect, patient experience goes beyond just how nice you and your staff are during the actual patient visit. You need to consider the entire patient flow; you want to engage your patients before, during, and after their visit.

Before the visit, send patients their intake forms via the EHR, patient portal, or patient intake software so that you have all of their data ahead of time. That saves them time during their first visit which gives a better impression. It saves your staff time in which they would have to be manually inputting information. And it saves you time during the visit because you already have access to their important health data so you don’t have to ask basic questions.

Having a meaningful first visit that doesn’t involve spending most of the time talking about basic information, such as their medical history, but instead focuses on why that individual patient is seeking medical aid will lead to greater engagement.

During the visit, you want to avoid seeming cold and distant. Patients tend to view doctors as prescription machines who don’t care about their needs, so if you want to have a focus on patient experience, you need to build trust.

Train your staff and other doctors to spend at least a few moments each visit talking with your patients about something personal. You can keep notes inside of your EHR about important dates, children’s names, or other personal details as a reminder.

Patients who trust you are more likely to trust the treatment plan, stick to their medication schedules, have better outcomes, and change behaviors that might be negatively affecting their health.

After the visit, you want to continue patient education about their treatment plans or any next steps required for their healing. Educating patients will keep them engaged and will lead to them adhering to their medication schedule more diligently.

Without patient education, your patient might not understand why you’re asking them to use a certain piece of confusing or potentially scary technology, such as remote patient monitoring devices. Or they might not understand exactly why you’re asking them to take a specific medication that might not make them feel the best.

Set up multiple touch points with your patients once they leave your office and in between appointments to ensure they’re engaged. Have your staff give them a call once a week, or have your patients use their patient portals to check in on a regular basis. You can also directly message them within the patient portal if that’s more convenient than receiving phone calls.

Medical software improves patient outcomes

Patients have more direct access to their health data than ever before. Whether it’s through a device such as a smartwatch that tracks sleep, heart rate, or general health activities or through a patient portal, your patients want to know what their health status is.

Patients who can access their health data easily and frequently will be more engaged which means they are more likely to stick to treatment plans, self-manage their temporary or chronic conditions, and will feel less helpless when it comes to improving and maintaining their health.

This means less repeat visits and fewer emergency admissions to the hospital. If you offer remote patient monitoring, your patients with chronic conditions will have far greater control over their own health with the use of devices such as pulse oximeters, continuous glucose monitors, and/or bluetooth enabled blood-pressure monitors.

Patients who actively engage in medical technology will be more likely to come in for regular checkups, mammograms, STI/STD screenings, and are more likely to commit to health behaviors such as nutritious eating or exercise plans.

If improving patient outcomes is something you're truly passionate about, you might also consider different forms of payment models such as concierge medicine or value-based care. Both of those models put an emphasis on patient health over more traditional fee-for-service models which put the focus on seeing as many patients as possible.

How to evaluate medical software

Now that you have a grasp of the most common types of medical software, as well as how medical software can help your practice grow, let’s talk about how you can evaluate and build your software tech stack.

It's important to know early on whether you want to piece together standalone systems or purchase an all-in-one software suite that includes many of the functions you’re looking for.

By purchasing an individual EHR, medical billing, scheduling, telemedicine, or any other software you might need, you have more control over the functionality you get from each of those systems. However, with this method, you run the risk of integration problems between the systems you’ve purchased and any you might already have in place. If your systems don’t integrate together, it can often cause more problems than solutions.

On the other hand, all-in-one software suites are usually provided by the larger EHR software providers. These suites offer a ton of functionality and features such as patient portals, telemedicine, scheduling, billing, and more, but they also might offer more than your practice currently needs. If this is the case, you might be paying more money than you need to for features you’re not using.

If you’re confused about which software you need to start, here’s a list of basic functionalities that medical software offers based on priority:

Medical software features you should prioritize

More specialized functionality, such as remote patient monitoring, is important if you have a large population of patients who are elderly or have chronic conditions.

There’s no inherent right or wrong way to go when it comes to selecting your tech stack as long as you understand what features and solutions your clinic needs to succeed.

Considerations when selecting medical software

Several key factors should be considered when you begin your software selection process. We’ll break those down here.

  • Integrated suite vs. best-of-breed: We talked about it above, but it’s important to know whether you want different software for specific tasks or a complete suite of tools to address your needs.

  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): Unlike some industries, the decision to be on-premise or cloud-based is still a valid concern for the medical industry since many large healthcare organizations tend to want on-premise solutions. As a small practice, you’re likely going to want to look only at cloud-based solutions because they are more affordable and offer a wide variety of functionality, as well as more advanced support and training features.

  • Mobile functionality: Tablet usage in doctor’s offices has increased significantly in the last few years, and that’s likely not going to change any time soon. Not to mention that your patients will more than likely be accessing your medical tech via their smartphones or tablets themselves. If you plan on using tablets, it’s important to make sure the vendor you choose offers a robust mobile solution that is user-friendly and functional.

  • HIPAA compliance: If you stick to medical software vendors, this shouldn’t be a concern, but if you go outside of the medical industry for, say, your scheduling software, you want to make sure that they are HIPAA compliant.

In addition to those considerations, we have several recommendations for selecting software that you should keep in mind as well:

  • Shortlist prospective vendors by making a list of need-to-have and nice-to-have functionalities that reflect your business strategy, such as improving patient experience or switching to a new delivery model.

  • Identify the key features required for successful outcomes and find a vendor who can work with you to help you meet those outcomes. For example, direct-to-consumer practices will have different documentation and billing requirements than those using primarily value-based care agreements.

  • Map patient and clinician journeys or workflows in order to identify opportunities that can be solved or helped by software.

  • Look at your most complex, high-risk, high-volume, and problematic patient workflows separately in order to evaluate how software can improve each of them individually.

  • Avoid going over your budget by looking for hidden or additional costs such as interfaces with third-party solutions, data migrations, end-user training, cybersecurity software and insurance, or exit costs.

For more context around pricing for EHR, telemedicine, and medical billing software, we’ve combined our pricing guides for those three markets into one document for you to use as a resource.

The right medical software is crucial to the success of any modern practice

Medical software is a crucial piece of the puzzle for any healthcare organization or new practice, and it’s important to choose correctly. Now that we’ve broken down the different types, benefits, considerations, and evaluations, you should feel more empowered to make the right decision.

If you still don’t know where to start, our team of advisors can help you find a shortlist of medical software solutions during a free, 15-minute call. Schedule a callor click here to chat with a software advisor now.

Additionally, we have a ton of other useful resources available to help:


Survey Methodology

[*] Software Advice conducted the 2022 State of Telemedicine Survey in August, 2022 of 1,002 respondents to learn more about telemedicine use and how it has been affected by the pandemic. Screening questions were used to narrow respondents to those with relevant experience with the subject matter.


Sources

  1. Market Guide for U.S. Ambulatory Electronic Health Records, Gartner, Inc. 

  2. HITECH Act Enforcement Interim Final Rule, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

  3. National Health Expenditure Data, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services