Third-party integration describes the action of one software system connecting to another proprietary system to complete a certain function. Also referred to as external integrations, they are common in any software industry.
Not every software system will be able to accomplish every single software function on its own. Thus, third-party integrations are necessary.
The health IT industry is no different. As a software company that serves behavioral health providers, we see external integrations quite a lot and rely on some ourselves.
Even the best behavioral health software will need to integrate with third-party systems at some point.
However, if a software solution requires too many external integrations, the system’s workflows risk becoming complicated.
Herein lies the double-edged nature of third-party software integrations.
You want software that can integrate seamlessly with any external proprietary systems your operation requires, but you also don’t want to have to integrate too often.
In case that sounds a bit oxymoronic, we will explore both of these ideas in more detail below.
EHR Software Integration for Behavioral Health
It’s common for behavioral health software to require third-party integrations to accommodate all of its users’ needs.
Behavioral health treatment is complex and each provider is a little different. No two software solutions are the same.
It would be a lot to ask an EHR vendor to offer every single tool that every single organization needed. That’s the beauty of third-party integrations. Not being able to offer a certain tool isn’t an issue when you can seamlessly incorporate that tool from an outside source.
Many EHRs are quite capable of providing a digital treatment experience.
However, providers don’t have the luxury of only providing treatment. They’re tasked with running a business as well.
Organizations need some form of revenue cycle management (RCM) software to support billing and maintain the health of their business. Essentially, an RCM platform helps providers generate the revenue that allows them to deliver treatment.
An EHR that doesn’t contain the proper financial tools must integrate with an external RCM service to provide users with the finance capabilities they need.
Similarly, providers also benefit from customer relationship management software to effectively manage their populations.
In these cases, Salesforce is often the favored CRM software of organizations in our industry. Quite frankly, there is no solution like Salesforce when it comes to CRM. It serves a behavioral health provider if their EHR can seamlessly integrate with their preferred (or existing) CRM platform.
In this way, third-party integrations can elevate a provider’s operation by always giving them an option to incorporate additional solutions whenever necessary.
In this same vein, many providers benefit from seamless integration with external medication databases.
An EHR may not be so robust that it contains an extensive meds database. As a result, it’s common for providers to integrate their clinical platform with a meds database to make e-prescribing easy.
External Software Integrations: How Many are Too Many?
The ideal EHR environment offers a healthy balance of built-in tools and external integrations. We’ve found that the healthiest balance is an abundance of built-in tools and limited third-party systems.
The more third-party integrations you require, the more cluttered and inefficient your process can get.
Imagine all the moving parts associated with the following software integration scenario:
- External Integration for meds and e-prescribing
- External Integration for labs
- External Integration for patient portal
- External Integration for CRM
- External Integration for RCM/billing
If you count the EHR, that’s 6 different software systems you’re asking your staff to use successfully. Depending on the quality of both internal and external technologies, there’s a lot that can go wrong.
First, the sheer amount of external tools can be difficult to manage on an organizational level. There’s real potential to disrupt staff’s workflow. It can be difficult for users to be efficient if they need to work out of 2 or 3 screens to complete their tasks.
An excess of third-party integrations can overwhelm and frustrate staff. One thing we’ve learned over the last 16 years is that clinicians do not appreciate using multiple applications to complete basic tasks.
One thing that clients respond to in our system is that most, if not all of their tasks can be completed in a single screen.
We’ve heard unfortunate tales of users navigating a variety of applications to complete one task in other systems. Inefficient workflows aside, such a cluttered interface can hinder staff performance and morale.
And, second, when working with a patchwork solution with a variety of external integrations, you introduce a larger margin of error into your overall process. It’s a numbers game at that point – the more separate parts involved in the whole, the more chances for that process to get jammed up.
For example, the integrations can break, which could be your problem, their problem, or both.
If it’s an issue on their side, then you’re at the mercy of an external organization resolving the issue when and how they decide.
Plus, if the broken integration is critical to any other system processes, multiple functions risk becoming disrupted.
It’s much easier for operations to break down when your solutions are decentralized.
Behavioral Health Software: Further Education
We hope we don’t sound wishy-washy when it comes to third-party integrations – we know we just spent one section singing its praise and another warning of its dangers.
The best behavioral health software is as consolidated as possible, meaning that users can complete as many tasks as possible in a single platform.
However, your tech must play nice with any external system whenever the need arises. Besides the functional usefulness, it’s a general marker of dynamic software.
That functionality also gives providers a chance to take advantage of any future needs that may not be relevant in the present.
Look at the telehealth boom due to COVID-19. EHR vendors and treatment providers had to pivot to video-conferencing integrations overnight to deliver the best possible care to patients.
If any providers were unable to integrate with a telehealth solution, their operation became outdated overnight.
In this way, being able to integrate seamlessly with external tech helps providers not only support, but retain their patients as well.
Without much warning, a video-conferencing solution became a defining factor of a modern, fully functional EHR.
An EHR vendor may never be able to offer every single solution in a single platform, but they always give their clients the chance to best serve their patients by offering seamless integrations.
If you’re in the market for an EHR platform, be sure to inquire about a vendor’s software integration situation. It can give you an idea of how comprehensive the software is and how many external systems your staff would need to use.
And, if you’re wondering how third-party integrations work from a software perspective, check out our blog post about open APIs – the key to every software integration.