Finding the right match is critical, so be sure to find the vendor that can offer something that complements your current practice operations.
Cynthia Croy, MD, brought her staff together as she sought to replace her electronic health record (EHR) system so they could determine what they wanted most in their new software.
“You need to be really clear about your goals,” she said, explaining that she and her three staff members at Family Health Center Direct in Joplin, Missouri, made a list of the tasks they wanted the EHR to perform and then prioritized each one. “Each EHR has its own pros and cons, but by prioritizing, you can evaluate which would be the best new system for you.”
That’s a smart way to start, according to consultants. Physicians should begin searching for their next EHR by looking at their own practice, determining what features and functions they want most from their new system and understanding how an EHR will support or change existing processes.
Here are other key factors to consider when evaluating your next EHR:
Software can run on your own servers located onsite or it can run in the cloud-on servers owned and maintained by a technical company and located somewhere else. There are pros and cons for each kind of software, and differences in provided services and prices, said Derek Kosiorek, CPEHR, CPHIT, principal consultant at the Medical Group Management Association Healthcare Consulting Group. For example, physicians buy on-premise software upfront and oversee its maintenance. But they pay monthly fees for cloud software (also called software as a service or SaaS) and the software company handles updates. Physicians need to understand these differences along with the benefits and drawbacks and pricing structures, so when they’re evaluating different EHR systems they can compare apples to apples.
Different systems offer different capabilities, so check that the EHR you are considering offers the capabilities you’ve identified as most critical, said Scott Jacobs, vice president of community outreach services at The HCI Group, a Jacksonville, Florida, a firm providing healthcare IT services. Moreover, review vendors’ plans for future capabilities because they’re not all moving forward at the same clip. This is particularly important, he said, because emerging changes in rules, regulations and reimbursements will require different functions from your EHR in the near and long-term future. For example, some systems currently offer or are more quickly developing capabilities that can accommodate requirements to provide quality data analytics under the bundled care reimbursement models.
Independent practices don’t have to go it alone. Hospitals often extend the EHR systems they’ve implemented to doctors working in their region, an arrangement that can offer multiple benefits, Jacobs said. Physicians can tap into the hospital’s technical expertise while getting a new EHR that should offer interoperability with the hospital and the other medical practices in the hospital’s EHR ecosystem. Going this route also cuts back on surprises post-implementation, Jacobs added. “The hospital knows that technology already; they’ve implemented it, so they have experience. And you know other physicians in that community who have gone through the experience and can give you honest feedback,” he said. “And it’s best for the patient. When they’re seen by you or an ambulatory department or impatient unit of the hospital, all that information, if it’s integrated, is already shared. It saves the primary care an enormous amount of time making phone calls and faxing information. Quality of care increases, and there are less errors.”