How to do it... Financial software

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It is said human beings use only about 5% of their brain cells. The ratio may be different, but it's safe to say providers also typically do not maximize capabilities of their long-term care financial software. Some of the problems have to do with inadequate preparation for software purchase; some pertain to insufficient technical savvy. But in most cases, providers can easily improve their return on investment of what often are costly software packages. Here's how to make better use of your software:

1 No matter what software you use or what size operation you are, you must get your house in order first, so to speak.
"Maintain documented procedures for tracking census, entering cash or charges, claims processing and month-end close," says Jason Menges, a former accounts receivable coordinator and the national director of sales for Achieve Healthcare Technologies. "Track procedural compliance regularly at first and as needed to ensure that the work is consistently done properly."

2 Keep in mind that closing the collection, just like closing a deal, is the big payoff.
"Hopefully your system has a collections capability, but even in its absence, collections progress can be monitored closely with the proper aging reports," Menges says. "Remember that billing is only part of the equation. Getting the money in the door and staying on top of the delinquent accounts is really what drives a successful business."

3 Before you worry too much or make plans for a new system, take stock of where you are and take advantage of current business relationships.
"Write down a list of the 'issues' that impact your work the most and review them with your current vendor. Many times the system can do something to address these items, but it is unknown to the end users due to turnover or knowledge transfer issues and/or issues with how the system was set up," said Menges.

4 Ensure that your financial application is fully integrated with your clinical application, says Dan Cobb, chief technology officer for HealthMEDX.
"While technical integration — including the sharing of common data — is important, equally important is the integration of clinical and financial people and processes. Integration will ensure that the RUG scores, diagnosis codes, etc. that are created by the clinical application are the same information that is billed," Cobb explains. "Tight integration will also reduce the time and effort required as information flows efficiently and accurately between the two."

5 Again, expect more from what you have. "Look at a financial application as more than a billing tool," Cobb advises. "A robust financial application should also help you manage your cash flow, minimize your days sales outstanding, and assist with cash collections."

6 But don't take everything you might be promised from a vendor at face value.
"Many long-term care providers buy software from vendors who promise to customize the features to specifically fit the organization's needs. The problem? At a later date, administrators discover that such customization actually carries a hefty price tag. Or they find out that the vendor really is not capable of providing exactly what's needed through customization," says Kandasamy Pasupathy, CEO of Schaumburg, IL-based InfoSys.
"Long-term care providers are stuck with less-than-optimal software — or software that they can't use at all."

7 Some software packages have more practical features than others. One that has a "paperless" option for reports is preferred, says Kathy Munie, implementation specialist for MDI Technologies, St. Louis.
"Most software packages provide a variety of reports, or report generator options, to show you information in a usable format, but every report may not have a 'view' or 'display' option," according to Munie. "To avoid long printouts when they are not needed, use a PDF creator program such as Adobe Acrobat or JAWS PDF Creator from Global Graphics. Once installed, you can select this program as a 'printer.' This will allow you to view any report before you decide whether or not you want to print it. In addition, you can save it for future reference or e-mail it."

Mistakes to avoid
- Shopping too early in the process. Decide what you need before looking around.
- Expecting too little of your program. An adequate application should be able to manage cash flow and many other tasks.
- Not getting it in writing. Don't get stuck with unfulfilled promises.
- Obtaining a financial application that is not fully integrated with your application. People and processes must be able to merge.