Software for EMS: The future of data management
EMS software started in dispatch, where the new technology helped us to better manage our response times.
The impact of computers and the software that runs them touches every aspect of modern life.
What amazes me the most about it is being able to remember a world in which they did not exist. I'm probably the last generation of medics that can say that.
Software has also touched many aspects of EMS. A few of these are electronic patient records, billing, dispatch and tracking, scheduling, inventory management, fleet management, inventory control, data collection and workforce management.
It started in dispatch, where software better managed our response times. The first place I saw software used in EMS was driving the pretty screens in the communications center. Then patient record — or ePCR software systems — began to appear, often on competing hardware platforms.
These electric patient record systems allowed capture and mining of all patient and billing data. This soon proved to have enormous benefits, enhancing clinical quality and improving system performance. More consistent billing practices also demonstrated dramatic revenue enhancing benefits.
This is an intensely competitive business that is still very new. That results in many competing systems and lots of new players in a constantly evolving market. My biggest two concerns if I was tasked with picking a system would be, how long have you been around and how many systems use your software? Then I would need to talk face to face to a few of their biggest and smallest customers.
Picking ePCR software is like getting married. Every single call, every single patient contact and point of data will be documented using the system. It will touch every aspect of your work life. You need to be really confident in more than just the software; you should spend extra time talking to their people.
Software support is probably one of the very best ways one company can distinguish itself from its competitors. Finding out who really excels in this area can often be a deciding factor in what to buy. Be sure to check out Jarret Winkleman's article for some other great tips on How to Buy Software.
Scheduling and training
Scheduling is another area that has benefited from computer software. EMS runs 24/7/365, and filling these slots can be a complicated matter. It's worse at a volunteer organization where scheduling tends to be even more complicated. I once used huge monthly planners and then taped them to the wall. We have come a long way, baby.
There are many different scheduling products on the market including EMS eSchedule, ePro Scheduler, EMS Manager, WhenToWork, Telestaff and Shiftboard. Most today are web based and interactive, providing real time updates to everyone affected by scheduling changes.
EMS, however, has some additional needs when it comes to managing their workforce. One of these is tracking all these required training programs and their certifications.
Frankly, I think this is one area where we have gone a little crazy. It seems rather than a comprehensive education we approach training in a sort of piecemeal way. Good course ideas often turn into endlessly repeated entitlement programs for educators. Software that tracks all of your agencies continuing education requirements can at least eliminate the stress of last-minute CEU hunts.
One of the more exciting new developments in EMS is Inventory & Supply Chain Management software. The big market leader in EMS is AMBUTRACK. This system solves a number of long-standing and stubborn problems in EMS. If I had 5$ for every time an EMS agency called me after completely running out of an essential item, I would be rich. This is one way you can stop running out of things and eliminate the expensive costs of overnight shipping of last minute supplies.
The AMBUTRACK system keeps track of all supplies on hand, monitors usage and then flags you when you need to order something. By keeping better track of what you use, you can better manage your costs. It is web-based, so everything integrates from the field to the warehouse and supplier, for the first comprehensive supply chain management solution. It also has a Fleet Maintenance Program component. Keeping track of the essential vehicle maintenance required to keep them safe is another area where software can make your life a lot easier.
Stand-alone Fleet Maintenance Programs are more generic, in that our industry is not alone in its needs. Emergency Vehicles run constantly, and often from remote locations, making regular maintenance challenging. Fortunately for us, many types of businesses maintain hard use vehicle fleets. So this is one area of software with considerable depth and a wealth of offerings.
A few include AutoVIP, Chevin Fleet Solutions, Manager Plus, Fleetmate, and Fleet Maintenance Pro. But you can't keep trucks on the road without the money to pay for them. That's where good Billing Software has proved vital.
Billing software has improved collections and enhanced revenue for thousands of EMS agencies.
In a difficult and challenging economic environment, today more than ever, the fiscal health of your organization is critical. Billing software at its best can keep you compliant and respectfully of the law, and most importantly, the patient. The days when sloppy billing practices will be tolerated are over.
The big trend is definitely towards the integration of software solutions.
For example, I often see Billing Software often integrated into ePCR systems, or CEU tracking bundled with Workforce Management. Hopefully, we will soon see completely integrated EMS software packages. Sort of like how Adobe markets complete software packages to graphic artists. I expect we will soon see EMS software solutions that can integrate all of these various different software elements into one seamless package.
Imagine having so much information at your fingertips. It would probably change the EMS industry. Some of the more obvious benefits could be better system efficiency at lower costs. Some of the less obvious might be improved research resulting in changes to EMS education.
It has been really exciting seeing our industry benefit from these innovations in software technology. I just sometimes wish I didn't need reading glasses to use it.