If thoughts of detailed client histories and reports to funders make you break out in a cold sweat, it may be time to consider the many good case management tools that will help you track demographics, interactions, scheduling, billing information, and more. In this update of our 2009 article, we summarize what tools case management experts would recommend.
Let’s say one of your staff members has a meeting scheduled in half an hour with a client she’s never met before, and she’d like to understand the client’s background and entire history with your agency. Or perhaps a funder just called and asked to see a report summarizing the progress each of your current clients has made since the time you first met with them.
If these scenarios make you break out in a cold sweat, it may be time to consider a case management system. A good case management tool will track the information you need to work with a client, such as their age, address, job history, medical history and childcare situation. It will also track all the contacts between your staff and the client, the individualized plan for your client and the progress towards the plan. And, it will allow you to assess outcomes and report on all the information you’ve collected.
Advanced case management systems can do even more, such as helping with workflow and scheduling. For instance, based on the information you enter about a client, they can recommend that your client meet with a dietician, help to schedule that meeting and send the dietician a reminder. This can really help to streamline internal communications and avoid miscommunication. The systems can also help to automate your billing processes, particularly if you need to bill government entities or insurance companies.
Keep in mind, however, that change is hard. You’ll likely need to think hard about your own processes in advance, both to understand how a new system will fit and to make it easier to support your workflow by standardizing it to best practices. And don’t forget training—a new system no one knows how to use will not be a step forward!
There is a large pool of case management tools to choose from that specialize in various kinds of human services agencies. The low end of this pool is notably shallow, while at the high end, solutions can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. While we can’t look at all of the case management options, in this article—updated from our 2006 version—we highlight several of the more affordable tools broadly applicable across a number of human service sectors.
(Kind of) Free Tools for the Tech Savvy
A few tools offer case management functionality without any licensing costs. However, because case management applications almost always need to be carefully designed to meet your organization’s needs, it’s critical to consider upfront setup and long-term maintenance as part of the costs. You’ll need the help of someone technically savvy and experienced with modeling case management databases to get started with these tools.
Excel, Access or FileMaker Pro
Use care in deciding to build your own solution to case management—the sector is littered with disaster stories of organizations that assumed a volunteer, a friend-of-a-friend or their neighbor’s nephew could build them an effective database. Even a small case management database is not trivial to develop. How will you ensure records are secure, or that it meets funders’ audit requirements? The solution will only be as good as the person who creates it, and will remain useful only as long as that person remains available to devote time to it. Remember, you’ll need to have someone on staff that can backup your data and answer questions from other staff members.
As the name suggests, Salesforce has deep roots as a web-based constituent relationship management system for sales organizations. However, its flexibility and nonprofit-friendly pricing scheme—they provide up to 10 licenses for free to 501(c)(3) nonprofits, and significant discounts after that—have allowed Salesforce to gain significant traction in the nonprofit community as well. Salesforce isn’t going to support your case management needs out of the box, but is almost infinitely flexible. A very experienced data manager or, more likely, a consulting firm, could create a custom case management system with compelling features on top of the core Salesforce platform. It’s even possible, with a substantial investment, to create one consolidated system that will manage donors, clients and all your other constituents.
There’s a number of Salesforce consultants available to help. In fact, several consulting firms, such as Exponent Partners and ACF Solutions, have built Salesforce tool sets designed for human service case management solutions, and could work with you to implement them. Working with a consulting firm to customize Salesforce will probably cost $10,000 to $100,000 or more, depending on your needs.
There are not as many options as one would hope at the low-end of the market, so unless you have simple needs or substantial technical expertise at hand, expect to look for a mid-market solution. These systems typically run about $5,000- $30,000 per year, depending on your requirements and number of users. For most systems you should also expect to pay a setup fee of at least several thousand dollars to get up and running with a system customized to your needs.
Nearly all the tools below are hosted and web-based. Our experts are seeing a notable and positive trend in this direction. Web-based software allows users to easily access data from multiple locations and saves considerable costs which would otherwise be devoted to hardware, extra software, data security and backups, along with the staff to monitor these functions. Although a hosted case management vendor has physical possession of your data, a good vendor is likely to be able to keep it more secure and accessible than you could manage on your own.
Efforts to Outcomes (ETO), by Social Solutions
With a tight focus on tracking and reporting the results of client interactions, ETO aims to appeal to organizations for which outcomes measurement is core to their mission. This web-based, hosted application is built to run on Internet Explorer. By integrating SAP BusinessObjects, Social Solutions has invested significantly to ensure ETO’s reporting power is balanced with flexibility and ease of use.
ClientTrack, by DSI
ClientTrack is a hosted, web-based application with a Microsoft Outlook-like menu interface. It provides fairly robust features, including useful abilities to create custom workflows and a case notes field that allows a combination of free-form and formatted data. The interface is fairly complex, however, particularly when it comes to reporting—expect your users to have a learning curve.
ServicePoint, by Bowman Systems
ServicePoint has a strong base of customers in the Homeless Management Information Systems arena, but is also widely applicable to other social service situations. It is also a hosted, web-based system, and is also fairly customizable. ServicePoint offers a billing module to streamline the process of billing government agencies for services provided.
Service Xpert Suite, by Unicentric
Service Xpert Suite is a web-based solution aimed at larger organizations in the healthcare field. In addition to robust case management functionality, it includes insurance billing functionality, integrated internal email and strong support for the type of permissions and audit logs that help with HIPAA compliance. This product utilizes Crystal Reports for reporting and can export to many standard file formats. Service Xpert Suite has been upgraded with forward-looking features such as support for bar codes, ability to take input with LiveScribe technology, support for offline case entries and updates (great for case workers working offsite on client visits).
Other Mid-Market Options
These four tools were the most frequently mentioned by the experts who contributed to this article, but they’re not the only games in town. Community Tech Partners offers several options, including an interesting entry-level product called Apricot. MetSys and Defran Systems’ Evolv-CS are also fairly widely used.
As mentioned, this article focuses on moderately priced tools applicable across a number of human service sectors, but the case management marketplace is much larger. If you have more sophisticated needs, you’ll need to look beyond these applications to the wider world of powerful and more expensive solutions. If your programs concentrate on a particular, widely recognized area such as homeless management, child care, health services or the like, also consider tools geared specifically toward that type of work. Ask other organizations like yours what software they’re using.
Many thanks to the nonprofit technology professionals who offered recommendations and advice, and otherwise helped with this article:
- Rick Birmingham, MAP for Nonprofits
- Patrick Callahan, NPower Pennsylvania
- Paul Lamb, Man on a Mission Consulting
- Shawn Micheals and Ash Shepard, NPower Northwest
- Gala Barnes, (formerly) NPower Greater DC Region
- Derek Coursen, Vera Institute of Justice
- John L. Kolp, Help USA
The article was edited by Idealware; any errors or omissions are Idealware’s sole responsibility.