Electronic health records: Follow simple shopping tips to find best system for your practice

October 1, 2008

While the full promise of EHR systems has yet to become reality, an expert offers shopping tips for finding the best available system for your practice.

Key Points

Orlando, Fla. - As the federal government and healthcare payers continue to push for the adoption of electronic health record (EHR) systems, vendors have yet to produce a solution that fully realizes the benefits of such technology, one expert says.

In this climate, physicians shopping for an EHR (or electronic medical record/EMR) system would do well to heed the 10 "EHR shopping commandments," says Daniel M. Siegel, M.D., M.S., clinical professor of dermatology and director of the procedural dermatology fellowship at SUNY Downstate, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Push for adoption

The push by Medicare and private insurers toward pay-for-performance also provides motivation for the implementation of EHR systems, Dr. Siegel says. Moreover, President George W. Bush has set a 2014 deadline for the adoption of EHR systems throughout the U.S. healthcare system.

Technologically savvy patients appreciate improved communication with their healthcare providers, and they expect a reduction in medical errors. Despite the fact that EHR systems can achieve both of these goals, there remains a gap between the vision set forth by EHR proponents and the actual capabilities of today's systems, Dr. Siegel says.

EHR systems also can facilitate quick and easy information input and retrieval, enabling physicians to provide more efficient patient care while boosting the bottom line and freeing time for other pursuits.

Ten 'commandments'

Dr. Siegel offers the following advice when shopping for an EHR system:

1. Don't purchase any EHR system or sign a lengthy contract without trying out the entire system first.

"Do hands-on work with the system and make sure you're comfortable with it. Since you'll often buy not just the EHR portion but also a practice management system that does scheduling and billing, make sure the products work and that your staff can work with them," Dr. Siegel says.

To that end, he recommends convincing a vendor to let you try out its product for a few weeks, as well as see the system in action in other offices.

2. Don't buy a package with a demo that causes a migraine.

"Some programs are so intuitively obvious you can use them right out of the box," Dr. Siegel says.

Conversely, he recommends avoiding programs for which users must remember bizarre function keys and secret shortcuts, for example.

"If, after a five- to 60-minute demo, you still think you need a Ph.D. in computer science to use the program, you probably do," Dr. Siegel says.

3. If a vendor cannot easily customize a template for something you do, keep looking.

"If you're at the booth and it's not easy enough for the vendor to do right then, it's probably not easy enough to do any time.

"You could," Dr. Siegel adds, "end up paying someone a lot of money to do it, or it might never be done the way you want it done."

4. Stick with standard PC-compatible hardware.

Selecting a system that uses standard hardware will allow you to avoid additional investments here if you decide to switch EHR software.

"Don't buy proprietary hardware that locks you in to one particular vendor's material," Dr. Siegel says.

5. Pick a product that's Health Level 7 (HL7)-compatible.