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What’s the Difference Between an Integrated and Single System?

How many times does a word have to be overused before its original meaning is lost to cliché?

When it comes to the term “integrated” that threshold was passed long ago. Especially as it relates to clinical and billing technology that supports outpatient rehab private practices.

I have a google alert for “physical therapy” and within the span of a day, I get alerts for dozens of blogs, websites and ads that boast:

  • “An integrated clinical and billing solution is the best solution”
  • “Our clients utilize our integrated system to track their clinical outcomes”
  • “Take control with of your practice with our fully integrated practice management software.”

Defining “Integration”

A lot of practice management software vendors take creative liberty when they toss the term “integration” around. Most often “integrated” is slapped onto software that builds a one way bridge to another, separate, piece of software. Picture a person standing on one side of a river, shouting directions through a megaphone towards a colleague standing on the other side. Without a megaphone of their own, the recipient can only listen, not respond.

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In a best case integration scenario, information is bidirectional, which is still incredibly limiting. A single patient record does not exist but instead is stitched together from multiple locations. Because there is no single patient record (I like to call it a single source of truth), meaningful, actionable insights remain technologically impossible to achieve. Multiple reporting engines cannot provide a holistic view of a patient, let alone the practice serving them.

Data siloes and disjointed patient records are not only a problem in outpatient rehab. The entire healthcare industry is plagued by data that cannot be shared effectively between systems (despite the best integration bridges that computer science has to offer). Ask any therapist working in a hospital and they will tell you that health data interoperability is a thorny subject for all providers frustrated by their lack of access to complete and accurate patient data.

When Integration Is Right

At the same time, integrated solutions can be useful to achieve specific business goals. For example, if you are working with a best of breed solution to engage with patients on social media and other marketing channels, integration might make sense. Similarly, there are many home exercise solutions (we love PhysioTec) that are great to simply integrate with for their niche expertise.

But when it comes to a practice’s foundational information technology (EMR, scheduling and billing applications), an integrated solution that manages multiple patient records will always leave gaps that undermine workflow and put real time, in depth analysis out of reach.

One (And Only One) Patient Record

Outpatient rehab practices need much more than a bridge between different patient records.

Effective clinical, billing and practice management software must rely on one, and only one, patient record to efficiently manage everything from patient to payment.

Unless clinical and financial information is stored in the same location, practice performance and patient management information will not be at your fingertips, let alone at your front desk staff’s when a patient is standing in front of them. And forget about meaningful practice management analysis because, as I mentioned earlier, disparate reporting engines cannot provide a complete view of an organization’s operational health.

This is the truth, regardless of how it is spun by different technology vendors: clinical and financial information has to be stored in one place.

In order to manage a practice efficiently and effectively, there must be a single patient record. This single record must be able to be mined for simple and complex insights within a moment’s notice. Anything less leaves you guessing. And an informed therapist is an empowered therapist. (Tweet this!)

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