Paperless progress: 4 questions to ask your EHR vendor

There's a lot to consider when practices look to replace or upgrade their electronic health record (EHR) system, and the last thing any practitioner should do is make an impulse buy.

With ongoing changes in the world of EHRs resulting from alterations to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) meaningful use program as well as the eventual  switch to ICD-10 code, which was recently delayed to Oct. 1, 2015, it's critical for practices to have trustworthy EHR software moving forward. But the myriad of EHR possibilities on the market can often bring confusion, much less concerns about efficiency.

"Keep in mind that not all EHRs are created equal," says Chad Fleming, OD, AOAExcelTM Business and Career Coach. "You want to assume all software companies are created equal, but they're not."

Whether your practice is waiting for system upgrades or an altogether new EHR, a few key questions can help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

Time to inquire

Practitioners have the power of choice when it comes to the amount of EHR products on the market, so ask these questions of your EHR vendor and yourself as you look at new systems.

  1. How flexible is the software? The most comprehensive, top-of-the-line software amounts to little if the program is too bulky for an office's existing computers. Robust programs require a robust network, and may not be compatible on systems unequipped to handle the program size. Practices should determine if the EHR software will put excessive strain on existing hardware, and subsequently decrease computing efficiency and hardware longevity. Limited flexibility results in many undue expenses. Also, consider the benefits of a cloud-based software system as it gives the practice without an in-house IT specialist the advantage of limited hardware and networking demands. The cost of cloud-based software may bring with it a monthly charge but an IT specialist can run the practice between $80 to $150/hr.

  2. How knowledgeable and consistent is customer service? Keep in mind when reviewing EHR vendors to also inquire about the customer service representatives the practice will be working with. It's important that practitioners feel comfortable in the knowledge that their vendor's customer service representatives know the product thoroughly, and are helpful in their approach. Customer service should provide not only expert assistance, but consistent answers. Dr. Fleming says inconsistent answers to routine questions should send up a red flag. Asking practices about their experiences with customer service regarding the software you are considering is a must.

  3. How accurate is the accounting? When the EHR software is closed, can you truly close the books for the day or do numbers change within the software retroactively? Dr. Fleming says it may be difficult to gauge this if a practice has only dealt with one previous EHR software; however, not all EHRs are created equal. Software quirks—inconsistencies such as automatically reverting back to default subsequent to data entry—can end up costing the practice time and money in the long run.

  4. The bottom line: Is it easy to use? Does the EHR software require a lot of extra effort on the doctor's part to meet meaningful use requirements, or is the software intuitive in its abilities? Dr. Fleming asks, do you work for the software or does the software work for you? Software should be simple for practitioners to navigate and should not leave them scratching their heads or searching for lost data.

April 8, 2014

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