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Selecting the EMR Electronic Medical Records System: A Daunting Task
Location, location, location.
As in real estate, it can be all about location. All else being equal, it is always in your best interest to pick a company which is local to your office. Local vendors are going to be in your time zone when it comes to support, are more likely to be flexible with training schedules, and can be much more accessible than those located far away. It’s nice to be able to drop in and do an in-service for new features at the company headquarters, or meet with your support team for any issues. This is a huge plus and is often overlooked by customers. If your company is not local, they may have a representative or VAR (value added reseller) in your neighborhood.
Anybody else out there?
When selecting an EMR vendor, it’s also nice if there are multiple practices in areas around you from which you can learn from. Visit their offices to see how they use the system. What do they feel are strengths or weaknesses of that EMR? In these cases, it may also be nice to have strength in numbers when it comes to developing new interfaces to a lab or radiology department. If there are 4 offices who are looking to connect to your local University or Hospital lab, you can split development costs by four.
User based supports
If there are a large number of users for a particular EMR (such as eClinicalWorks), there may already be a user support group, either a mailing list or messageboard where users can ask other users for support and help on how to configure office practices around an EMR. Perhaps other docs in your specialty will have questions on how to best optimize an EMR for your specialty’s use. You’ll want to be sure to ask your EMR vendor how many practices (and physician users) they have using their system. That will give you a basic idea of how successful that EMR has been.
What about tomorrow?
As good as an EMR is today, you’ll want to know what the company’s schedule is for upcoming improvements/enhancements. An EMR today that is state of the art may be outdated in as little as one year, given the pace of changing technologies today. Be sure to ask the vendor what their typical upgrade cycle is like, and how difficult it will be to upgrade your EMR implementation to the latest and greatest version.
Are you Listening to Me?
So you have that great idea about how to make your EMR even better, to reduce your work time and improve efficiency! Now what? How does your EMR solicit and incorporate user feedback? Can they give you examples of user directed suggestions that were included into the application? Do they intend to charge you a fee for adding a feature? You’ll want to make sure your company has a regular schedule of updates and that current users will be able to give suggestions on future improvements.
Finding that Needle in a Haystack
So, how should you go about looking and cutting down your list? We suggest talking to people in your specialty first to get an idea of which EMRs are already well suited to your specialty and office type. From there, also compile a list of other popular EMRs. A quick web search will help. Also consider your medical societies like the American Academy of Family Practice and American Academy of Pediatrics, who both have EMR related tools on their site.
Then, make a list of EMR requirements and do some research. Eliminate those that don’t fit your pricing, computer hardware/software requirements. From there you should take a few weeks to do demos with all your EMR candidates. Cut your list down to your “short list” and spend more time looking thru your EMRs in person or more in depth as we have suggested. Finally, take your top 2 or 3 choices thru the “Guantlet.” Spend a few hours toying with each one to see which you really like, and which works with your office style. Then preview the system with your staff and other physicians to see if they have any other suggestions.
Finding the right EMR is not an easy or fast process. Remember, this decision will be one that should not be taken lightly. You will spend upwards of five to fifty thousand dollars on hardware, software, training, time, and tears to make this work. Do it right the first time. Expect the process to take months to pick the right system, then careful planning on how to rollout the system.