Purchasing new case management software for your human service organization is not a decision that’s ever taken lightly.
Let’s face it, you can’t just pick one up at the grocery store on your way home.
You’re spending your agency’s money on a critical piece of infrastructure, so an impulse or panic buy is not on the cards.
You also can’t just go with the first case management system you happen to see (unless it’s Penelope, haha).
You need to do your research.
Weigh multiple options and competing factors.
What is the price? What’s the user licensing model? What do I get for my (agency’s) money? Can it make the coffee?
It’s a decision that typically involves multiple people at your organization, and that also involves months of compiling information, viewing demos, perhaps even issuing a formal request for proposal to shortlisted vendors.
In short, it’s kind of a big deal.
So what should you be looking for?
There are multiple departments you’re trying to please with this purchase - of course, your executive team has to be happy with the solution you choose, but there’s also the clinical staff, administrative team, report writers, I.T. staff, finance department - all the people that are going to have to live with this software system every day.
And don’t forget your organization has to submit reports to your stakeholders every quarter, every year, etc. Did you buy a system flexible enough to generate the reports you need?
You know what? Let us make it easy for you.
We came up with 63 things we think you should look for when buying a case management system for your nonprofit or social service enterprise.
Don’t worry, we’ve broken it up into three parts to make it more digestible - read parts two and three here! Or download the entire series as an e-book that you can print out and use as a buying guide!
Can one system do all of this, you might ask? Shockingly, we have a suggestion with whom you might be familiar. Read on to find out!
No case management software system is complete without a way to track appointments with clients, and it should also be able to track mileage, travel time, staff meetings, vacation time, group sessions and other recurring appointments, or even informal events like information nights or school presentations.
An added bonus would be a way to track worker availability, especially if your organization has staff who schedule appointments for providers. They need to see who’s available and when!
2. Smart Forms
What makes smart forms 'smart' anyway?
Pulling information from a client’s file to eliminate tedious re-typing, conditional questions that provide different options / pathways to the user dependent upon the answer entered, or simply just being able to update or change a document without having to call in the I.T. department - these are just a few things to look for in any vendor who calls their document feature ‘smart.’
3. Automated Workflows
Your staff have processes that they follow, with checklists attached to each one. What do you do when a new client comes to you for help? What paperwork should they fill out? Who needs to be notified? Do we put them on the wait list?
Automated workflow technology can help make decisions for your staff or, at the very least, make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
4. Web based
At this point in time, hopefully any case management system that you consider for your social service agency is web based - this means it can be accessed via a web address on the internet, with a unique login ID and secure password mandatory to gain access to the database.
Accessing via the web is secure, easier for staff, and means your workers won’t lose confidential information if their computer crashes.
If any vendor does not offer web based case management software and wants to install their clearly outdated system directly on staff workstations, we say run the other way!
5. Mobile access
Speaking of the internet and making the lives of your staff easier, today’s case management systems should also be mobile-friendly, meaning staff can access them on their smartphones or tablets.
They might be at a client’s home, a meeting outside of the office, even just catching up on paperwork at home or on the train or bus to work - there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to access the system whenever they need to.
6. Built-in reports
One of the great advantages of having a data management system in place is that you can use all that data for reporting!
You’ll need reports on everything from worker productivity to service delivery, demographic breakdowns, client outcomes, and more.
Or maybe you need to be able to print out the client’s file at any given time in order to comply with an audit or court order.
Ideally, some or all of these generic examples will be built into the system for you, so that your organization can get a high-level view of what’s going on and who you’re serving at any given time, right off the bat.
7. Ability to export data to build your own reports
That said, as well as generic reporting needs, each organization has unique reports they’ll need to generate for their stakeholders, executive team, state / province, federal government, and so on.
As a result, your case management system should allow authorized users at your organization to export your data to a third-party application such as Microsoft Excel or Tableau, where you can run queries to generate the reports you need when you need them.
Or perhaps their professional services team can build the reports for you.
Either way, you should have the freedom to use your data to meet your reporting requirements.
8. Communications tools
Timely communication between teams, departments or individual staff members at your organization can be critical, particularly when sharing sensitive information about a client case, incident report or other intervention that requires a timely response and/or discreet, secure communication.
Look for any modern client management software to have this capability built in, hopefully with the option to send messages outside of the system to the smartphones of relevant staff members who may not be logged in in the event of an emergency.
9. SMS or e-mail reminders
Speaking of which, a system that can automatically send reminders via SMS (text) or e-mail would be nice, especially if those reminders can go out to clients at a certain period prior to an appointment.
This alone can help reduce no-show rates and improve worker productivity all at once!
10. Client engagement
But why stop at appointment reminders?
As human services moves increasingly toward a model of person-centered care, it will become more important for your organization to provide a mechanism for clients to connect with their care and their service providers on a deeper level than ever before.
An option for clients to communicate with their providers outside of scheduled sessions, or even to complete key documentation, assessments and surveys on their own time and submit them to the system … now, that would be a way to engage with your clients in a whole new way!
11. Simple intake and assignment
Adding new clients to your system and assigning them to a worker should not be a time-consuming or confusing process.
A client information system should streamline simple tasks such as these, so make sure the software you have or that your organization is considering has an intake process that’s intuitive and easy to use, but also one that can prompt users to enter any required information or provide a warning whenever they may be about to add a duplicate entry.
A way to add multiple case members at the same time would be ideal, as would a simple process to move from intake to assigning the client into service with a worker, and even booking the first appointment all in the same step.
12. Secure login / password
Requiring a login and password to access a web-based case management system kind of goes without saying, but hopefully the system you evaluate contains a built-in algorithm designed to meet minimum security requirements (e.g. X number of letters, numbers, etc.).
Even better would be some kind of two-factor authentication - this is where a system may, for example, require users to provide a verification code or answer a security question, along with their user name and password in order to log in.
Or perhaps the software includes Single Sign On (SSO) capability - this is an authentication process that allows organizations to manage login credentials for multiple applications in a singular location using an Identity Provider (IDP).
Whatever the case, make sure to ask about password security rules available in any case management software you check out - no system built to house protected health information should allow staff to use ‘password’ as their access to the database!
13. Use on multiple devices
This just in - people are no longer chained to their desktops, and they expect access to the data they need on their smartphones and tablets, when they need it.
Any modern case management system should also be mobile, especially if your staff do home visits, client accompaniment, or otherwise work with your customers away from the office.
But we mentioned that already.
Mobile access on a wide variety of devices is key!
14. Have more than one person in a case
Hey, you know what would be great? A case management software system that understands what case management means.
Any client information system that does not allow you to group family members or otherwise connected individuals within the same case file is … strange.
A unified case file structure that allows you to gain a complete picture of every family you serve at a glance is the one you’re looking for.
15. Have more than one service file per case
Hey, you know what else would be great? A case management software system that recognized that cases sometimes involve more than one program.
The case management software system you select should allow not only multiple members per case, but also multiple services per case.
In other words, people in a case might be in more than one program at a time (together or separately) - your system should allow this!
16. Assessment scoring
Your organization might use any number of scored assessments or indexes that gauge everything from marital satisfaction to depression levels.
Hopefully the system you use allows you track scored questions in the documents you build in (your system has a document builder, right?), so that you can see client progress over time in the domains relevant to you.
17. Digital signature
Capturing a client or worker signature digitally can be done in a number of ways - for your organization, it might mean capturing an electronic signature, either with a mouse, stylus or finger, or perhaps a date and time stamp that logs when an item is changed or updated in the system and by whom.
Or maybe it’s just the ability to scan in a signature and attach it to the system so that it’s on file.
Systems should have at least the capability for one of these, but all three would be nice!
Having a strong, easily accessible search feature is an essential in any client management system.
This can be a major positive for your organization that not only saves time and increases ease of use for staff by allowing them to access the information they need within seconds, but it can also decrease duplicate client entries - simply have your staff search for a client first before creating a new record.
Some software systems may have a way to merge duplicate records, but we’ve found that the best way to limit duplicate records is to avoid creating them in the first place!
19. Billing module
The last thing you want to do after purchasing a new case management system is to then have to patch on a bunch of other modules to make it ‘integrated.’
It would be nice if the modules you need are actually included in the system from the get-go. You know, actually ‘integrated’ into the system itself.
Billing is one thing that may sometimes be available as an add-on, but you’ll want a system that includes it (and that you can just switch off if you don’t want it).
That way, you’ll be able to create your billable services, invoice, add payments, submit claims, etc. without having to pay for an extra system on top of the one you just bought.
20. Tracking service items you can report on
Tracking the services you provide and being able to report on them easily is very likely one of the main reasons you need a case management system.
Your management team, funders and other stakeholders want to know where your organization is making an impact, who you’re helping and how, perhaps even where grant money is being spent.
Being able to record that information easily and then report on it in a timely and accurate fashion should be available in any case management software you seek.
21. Track inbound referrals
Knowing where your clients come from can have a big impact on your business, and having an inbound referral feature that can track not only the source of each referral, but that stores detailed information about referral reasons and the contact details of each source can make each client profile more complete.
And if the system has built-in reporting to give you stats on referrals and their sources? That is a good thing.