As we mentioned in part one of our look at the essential features of the best case management software systems out there, buying a new case management system for your social service enterprise is no walk in the park.
That's why we came up with 63 items to look for when buying a case management system for your human service agency. Because we're so thoughtful, we’ve broken it up into three parts to make it more digestible - this edition features reasons 22 to 42 - you can read part three here! Or download the entire series as an e-book that you can print out and use as a buying guide!
22. Track outbound referrals
Being able to track outbound referrals in your case management software system allows you to not only maintain a complete picture of the services you’ve provided to your clients, but also gives you a sense of the other agencies in your community for whom you are a referral source and potential partner.
Outbound referrals don’t just mean referring to some external organization, however - software that can track referrals from one program to another within your own organization would be even better!
23. Wait list
Your organization might have a waiting list for numerous reasons - perhaps you offer a group that requires a minimum number of members before you can schedule a series, maybe a client is waiting for a worker with a particular skill or specialty, or perhaps your intake process involves placing a client on a pre-enrolment list while you collect the necessary paperwork and so on.
No matter why your wait list exists - your case management software system should be able to accommodate it.
24. Embedded help
Learning how to use a new software system can be tricky business at the best of times.
Staff members who are used to a previous system or the old way of doing things, may initially need some assistance understanding what screen they’re on or how to perform a task in the new system.
That’s where embedded help resources can come in extra handy - being able to go directly to your software provider’s help site with one click from within the case management system should be a feature you look for when buying.
25. Resource booking
Being able to schedule time on a calendar might not just involve booking slots for clients and workers, but you might also need to reserve meeting rooms or other organizational resources, such as projectors, laptops or tablets, maybe even vehicles for staff members heading off-site.
We certainly hope any case management software system has a built-in scheduling option - being able to book resources should be part of that option as well.
The majority of the agencies we serve offer group services for their clients, so it seems odd that some case management software solutions out there do not naturally accommodate groups.
The group functionality in any social services software system should give your staff the power to enrol clients easily in a group, control how long the group runs for and / or whether it’s an ‘open’ group (one that runs all the time or often, and in which clients can come and go) or a ‘closed’ group (a group that runs for a set period and which a client is expected to remain with for the full run of the series).
It should also allow you to bill from within the group if you charge for your services, and - perhaps best of all - mark attendance for the group all from one screen to make things super easy for your staff!
27. Informal groups
Along with the formal groups that form part of a client’s clinical file, your organization might also offer informal group series, such as drop-in groups, parenting skills classes, and so on. Your case management software solution should allow you to roster your existing clients, or even to quickly add minimal information about attendees not receiving formal services with your organization.
28. Schedule non-client time, e.g. indirect
As well as scheduling time with clients, booking out resources, and scheduling formal and informal groups, your staff will likely also need to use their calendar to schedule non-client time, such as staff meetings, administrative time, even lunch or vacation time.
This is especially useful for larger organizations where there may be staff who book appointments for others - giving service providers the option to block off time on their schedule when they are not able to see clients increases administrative efficiency and makes everyone’s job easier!
Speaking of giving staff the option of blocking off time and setting their own schedule, it’s also useful for them to be able to set general availability - again, this is most useful in situations where there are central booking staff who set appointments for service providers.
So what does setting general availability mean - well, it could be, for example, allowing staff to set colour-coded blocks of time on their schedule to indicate general times of the day when they expect to be available to see clients, or when they prefer to conduct assessments, times that they are generally out of the office doing site visits, and so on.
This lets staff tailor appointments and client assignments to suit the preferences of service providers wherever possible.
30. Anonymous services
Your agency also likely provides a number of services that, in Penelope, we have termed ‘anonymous services,’ meaning services provided to individuals for whom you do not do an intake, or even services provided to large groups where individual information is not required but that you might like to track and keep statistics on.
For the first example - services provided to people whose information you might not necessarily ask for - this could mean tracking information on your crisis call line, where you might provide information or even a referral to another organization, but where you would not necessarily ask for personal information or create a case.
For the second example - services provided to large groups - this could mean the ability to easily log community outreach events and to track approximate numbers of attendees, brochures distributed, and so on.
For both of these types of examples, you’ll need to be able to input the appropriate data quickly and easily, and you’ll also want to run simple reports to get statistics on the ‘non-case-related’ services you’re providing. Your case management software should ideally be able to handle this out of the box without time-consuming workarounds.
31. User preferences
Though case management software systems like Penelope generally allow a system administrator user to configure the system and determine what users can see on a role-specific basis, it’s nice to give your staff some choice in terms of what they can see in the software they use every day.
Examples might include allowing users to set defaults in terms of what information they want to appear when they’re viewing a case, or their preferences for how they wish to be notified by system alerts when they’re logged out of the system (e.g. email, SMS or not at all). Giving users some power over how the system appears to them is never a bad thing.
32. Security classes
We touched on the importance of a secure login and password in our previous post, and privacy and data security in general is of course of optimal importance for any case management system your agency is using, given the extremely confidential nature of the information your organization is entrusted with.
The case management software you choose should have the option to create security classes - these are configurable security permissions and restrictions that your system administrator can set to ensure that each staff member has access to information on a need-to-know basis only, and that sensitive information such as session notes can only be seen by those who should legally have access.
Ideally, your agency should be able to create an unlimited number of role-based security classes that allow you to tailor the system by job description or even on a user-by-user basis as necessary.
33. User categories
There are many situations in which it’s useful to be able to easily categorize workers by role, specialty, or any other way that’s useful.
For example, you may need to send a message to all direct service providers at your organization - wouldn’t it be cool if your case management system not only gave you the option of sending secure messages within the software, but also allowed you to just choose ‘Service Providers’ from a drop-down instead of typing out everyone’s name?
Or what if a new client would prefer to only see a female worker who speaks Spanish? With user categories, narrowing down the list of service providers to only those who fit that description is not only possible, it’s easy!
34. Message settings / preferences
Increasingly, your clients may be open to receiving messages from your organization via email or text, such as appointment reminders. One thing that they’ll no doubt appreciate, however, is having the option to decide if and / or how they receive those messages.
If your case management software solution has the option to send messages to clients by email or SMS (and it should), it should also provide the option to a) specify by which method clients consent and / or prefer to be contacted, and b) allow for clients to opt out of the communication if they do not wished to be contacted via those methods at all.
35. Print out client case
Sometimes you may come across the need to physically print out a copy of a client’s case history, perhaps due to a subpoena or other purpose.
It would be nice to be able to do this with a single click, as opposed to having to individually print out note after note, then go to separate screens to print a client’s case information, referrals, etc.
You’ll want a client information system that understands this need, and that provides a complete case history as a built-in report ready to go with a single click!
36. Lock notes
Speaking of understanding your needs, any human services or nonprofit client information system should get that your staff need to be able to lock session notes or documents after they have been entered.
Again, in the event of a subpoena, or an audit, CARF accreditation, or simply to help with HIPAA or other legislative compliance, your staff need to be able to lock notes or documentation, preferably with a name, date, and time stamp attached, in order to present a verifiable and authoritative record of when information was recorded.
37. Revisions of locked documents
On a similar note, staff may need to amend information in a document after it has been locked. This is where the concept of a document revision feature comes in.
Case management software that is cognizant of this need will allow your staff to create a new revision of a completed (or ‘finalized’) document, so as to edit or add new information, while preserving any previously completed versions so that a complete audit trail of the document is maintained, along with who made each new revision, and when.
38. Add as many users as you like
Many case management software solutions in the marketplace operate on a ‘named user’ model. This means you have to pay for a separate user account for each and every staff member who may at some point have to log into the software, even if they’re not using it every day.
Software like Penelope, however, operates on a concurrent user licensing model. This means that, at Athena, we don't make you buy a license for each employee, only for the maximum number of employees who would need to use the system at any one time. This means your organization can save money while still being able to create an unlimited number of user accounts!
39. Alerts / flags
In any organization, timely communication is key, though this is especially true in human services, where people’s lives could potentially be at stake based on the treatment and care you provide them.
To help ensure that no information, documentation, or knowledge about a client or their family falls through the cracks, modern case management software systems should have a built-in capability to send automated alerts or to flag certain data so that a client’s situation is known by relevant staff members.
For example, perhaps a safety concern flag is activated to indicate that a client is at risk of harm - ideally, your software system can not only store this information, but inform supervisors and other staff who need to know, automatically create a task to complete required paperwork, and so on.
40. Dedicated SA account
Configuring your case management software system is an important step during the deployment phase, as is the ongoing upkeep of the system - e.g. changing data requirements, adding new document templates, creating new users, etc.
You’ll want any case management software system you choose to be configurable so that your organization can easily make changes on the fly, and not have to pay for costly customization every time you want to change a question in a document or add a new data field to track.
That said, you won’t want these changes to be made by just anyone willy-nilly. Having a dedicated system administrator user profile and corresponding account that is accessed only by those with permission to do so, means you can rest assured in the knowledge that any changes to the system are being made by designated Penelope experts at your agency.
As much as you rely on your case management software system to store each client’s clinical data, there may be occasions when external information or documentation may need to be attached to a client file, for example a signed consent form, doctor’s letter, and so on.
The ability to upload files and attach them to the appropriate client record is a must in any case management system. Similarly, the option to upload and attach photos, videos, PDFs, and other types of files (no matter their size) is also a plus.
42. MS Exchange
Many organizations use Microsoft Outlook as their legacy calendar / scheduling system - although integrated case management software solutions like Penelope offer comprehensive scheduling as a built-in feature out of the box, your agency and staff might wish to retain Outlook even after purchasing and deploying.
Check if your case management software provider offers MS Exchange capabilities, e.g. to sync appointments booked in the client management system so that they appear in Outlook. Your staff will be pleased if they do!