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How to Effectively Evaluate Software Solutions

Posted on May 28, 2020 by Bruce Hogan

    Doctor typing on his computer in the officeDuring the COVID-19 outbreak, many healthcare organizations have needed to add new technology to effectively address patient needs. This guest post from Bruce Hogan of SoftwarePundit gives you a step-by-step software purchasing guide. This provides an overview of the process from start to finish to help you research software, effectively evaluate your options, and find the best software for you.

    Although most healthcare professionals understand that adopting innovative technology is an integral part of running a successful practice, many shudder at the thought of implementing new software in their practices. Who can blame them? Researching and purchasing software can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. But adding technology is critical to success. Here are some steps to make the process easy:

    Decide What Type of Software You Need

    Before you dive into researching software solutions, we recommend that you determine which components of your practice you want to improve. Which tasks are particularly time-consuming and sub-optimal? Identifying your practice’s pain points will give you a solid framework that will guide your research. Here are a few illustrative improvement opportunities that many practices discover during this step:

    • Streamline clinical operations
    • Reduce patient no-shows 
    • Create a membership program to attract uninsured patients

    Software solutions generally offer a wide array of features and perks that can be useful for your practice. However, you want to purchase a software tool that is equipped with features that directly target the improvement opportunities that you decide are most important. We call these “must-have” features, and we will explore this further in the sections below. 

    Once you have identified the improvement opportunities that you want to tackle, you’ll want to decide which category of software is most pertinent for your use case. This will narrow down your research, so you aren’t sifting through various software solutions that aren’t relevant to your needs. Here are a couple software categories that will help you actualize the improvement opportunities mentioned above.

    • If you want to streamline clinical operations, consider practice management software. Healthcare professionals use this software to optimize their day-to-day operations for tasks such as charting, imaging, appointment scheduling, and billing.
    • If you want to reduce patient no-shows, consider patient communication software. This type of Decide which software you needsoftware is equipped with features like two-way texting and automated appointment reminders. These tools help remind patients of upcoming appointments, and allows them to easily communicate with your front-office staff when they want to cancel. 
    • If you want to create a membership program, consider membership management software. Practices often use this type of tool to help manage in-house membership plans. Features include customizable membership template, payment processing, and online enrollment portals. 

    Determine “Must-Have” and “Nice-to-Have” Features 

    Before you start researching specific software vendors, determine which features are the most important to you.  This exercise will help you understand the key features found in this type of software, and analyze the functionality of each product. We recommend categorizing each feature by “must-have” and “nice-to-have.” This categorization will help you decide which software option is the most appealing, as well as eliminate others that lack the functionality you need. Here are some examples of “must-have” and “nice-to-have” features:

    • Practice Management Software “Must-Have’s”: cloud-based, charting, imaging, appointment scheduling, billing, reporting
    • Practice Management Software “Nice-to-Have’s”: patient routing, chairside dashboard, open API, basic patient communication tools
    • Patient Communication Software “Must-Have’s”: two-way texting, automated appointment reminders, review solicitation  
    • Practice Communication Software “Nice-to-Have’s”: digital marketing tools, custom website builder, reputation management tools
    • Membership Management Software “Must-Have’s”: customizable membership templates, payment processing, online enrollment portals
    • Membership Management Software “Nice-to-Have’s”: customer growth teams, white-labeled marketing products, reporting

    Create a Short List of Vendors

    Once you determine which features will help you improve your practice, the next step is to create a short list of vendors that interest you the most. Search the category of software that interests you, and make a list of 5-10 initial vendors that you find. The goal is to narrow down this list to 2-3 vendors that you will continue to research. If you need help, you can check out our website where we provide in-depth analysis on many software solutions.

    We recommend using a spreadsheet to organize your list of vendors and corresponding features. Throughout your research, mark your spreadsheet whenever you find that a tool has, or does not have, a feature in your “must-have” and “nice-to-have” list. Online reviews of tools can also help you evaluate specific products.

    Conduct Reference calls

    Now that you have narrowed down your list of vendors depending on their feature offering, it is time to reach out to their current customers. Speaking with current customers is an effective way to validate your vendor short list. Customers tend to speak candidly about their experience with software companies, whether it is positive or negative. 

    Here are some questions you can ask current users:

    • How has the experience with the software tool been compared to your expectations? Were there any good or bad surprises?
    • How helpful were the features for your practice? Was it as robust as the vendor claimed it to be?Doctor conducts research
    • How responsive is their customer support? 
    • Would you purchase this software again? 
    • Do you plan to extend your contract after the termination date? 
    • Did you consider other vendors before purchasing this one? What factors led to your decision?

    It is recommended that conduct an additional round of in-depth reference calls at the end of this process to fully validate the solution you are planning to purchase.

    Begin the Sales Process

    After you create a shortlist of vendors and conduct reference calls, it is time to start the sales process. This step typically includes introductory calls with the vendor, product demos, software testing, and contract negotiations. Expect for the sales process to take one to two months in most cases.

    Tips for Negotiating Price

    Most software vendors do not have a single price they offer to every customer. The exact price can vary depending on a variety of factors including the number of locations of your practice, volume of users, and bundled discounts. Because most companies do not charge all customers the same price, you should always try to negotiate a lower price. Here are a few negotiation tactics you should consider:

    • Have a BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement)
    • Leverage information from reference calls to ensure that you’re getting a fair deal
    • Don’t agree to anything too early – it’s normal to negotiate

    Consider ROI vs. Cost

    While you might be given a specific budget for how much you can invest in your new software, it’s always important to calculate the ROI of the tool. Ideally, the software solution creates more value than it costs in the first few months. If not, you should definitely be able to recoup the software’s cost within a few quarters of implementation. 

    Generally, software creates value for your business in one of the three ways below:

    • It helps you increase revenue
    • It helps you streamline operations and reduce cost
    • It helps you de-risk a key part of the business

    To measure your return on investment (ROI), calculate how much it has increased revenue, reduced cost, and de-risked your business. Add this value together, and compare it with what you have paid for the software. To have a positive ROI over time, the value must exceed the cost.

    For more tips to save money and run your practice efficiently, check out this free article

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    Bruce Hogan

    Bruce Hogan

    Bruce Hogan is Co-Founder and CEO of SoftwarePundit, a technology research firm that provides advice, information and tools to help dental practices successfully adopt technology. From highlighting industry-specific trends to delivering extensive software guides, SoftwarePundit helps dental practices select the best software for their needs.

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