American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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Still not ready for Y2K? Try off-the-shelf software

Editor's note: Last month, ACP­ASIM Observer outlined some last-minute strategies for heading off a Y2K disaster in your practice. This month, Carolyn Albert of ACP-ASIM's Center for A Competitive Advantage looks at how internists can use off-the-shelf practice management software to avoid a crisis in the new year.

From the October 1999 ACP-ASIM Observer, copyright © 1999 by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

By Carolyn Albert

If you still haven't prepared your practice's computer systems for the new millennium, or you are simply looking for reasonably priced practice management software, off-the-shelf systems may be your best bet. These products have evolved beyond the bare-bones systems of a few years ago and offer viable practice management tools for small practices.

It's true that off-the-shelf practice packages don't offer all the bells and whistles of more comprehensive systems designed to automate complicated capitation and managed care contracts. They do, however, offer all the basic scheduling and accounts-receivable functions you need to run your practice. Most systems also offer rudimentary patient charting systems and can be linked with major electronic medical records packages. Laboratory, hospital, and Internet interfaces are available, but limited, and you typically have to pay extra—or live without—any custom programmed features.

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For physicians who have not yet addressed Y2K issues, however, the most important feature of these systems is that they are readily available. Many major vendors of custom installed software systems are reporting that they have reached 1999 capacity and simply cannot install a new system before year's end.

Off-the-shelf systems offer another advantage besides availability: Anyone with reasonable knowledge of Windows-based computers can install them. Finally, these no-frills systems are affordable. While comprehensive practice management software can cost upwards of $20,000, off-the-shelf packages typically cost between $200 and $1,500 for single-user versions. (Networked versions typically cost up to $3,000.)

If you decide to purchase an off-the-shelf system to take your practice into the new millennium, prepare to enter data from your old software manually. While most vendors can electronically transfer data from your old software for between $500 and $2,500, many programmers say that it is too late to do so this year.

One key strategy for dealing with manual data conversion is to run concurrent systems through the rest of 1999. This will give you time to set up base information tables (CPT codes, ICD codes and health plan information), transfer patient records and migrate data to the new system as you enter new patients and charges, while accounts receivable already in the old system are paid down.

Once you install a new system, you should immediately begin transferring information from your old software. All new patients, year 2000 appointments and transactions should be posted in the new system. Use your old system only to look up old data and track accounts receivable as they are paid.


Because there is still time to buy and install off-the-shelf software, it is a good way to prevent Y2K woes.

Depending on your volume, you can transfer outstanding balances to the new system as you enter a patient into the new system or after Jan. 1 from printed reports.

You must close out your old system by Dec. 31, 1999. To protect your practice against the very real risk that you may never again be able to access the data in your old system, print out paper versions of all records. You'll need summary financial reports, detailed reports that list the status of unpaid patient accounts, complete patient financial histories and other information in your old system that you use to process bills. An attorney or accountant can advise you on how far back such records need to be maintained in your particular state.

This Y2K strategy is inelegant to implement, but worth pursuing when better options are no longer be available.

Carolyn Albert is a practice management specialist with the Center for A Competitive Advantage. For more information on Y2K strategies, call her at 800-338-2746, ext. 4565.


Off-the-shelf software sources

Here are three off-the-shelf software packages that provide scheduling and billing, priced for a single user:

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