5 important considerations when choosing EHR systems

Practices that are planning to implement electronic health records or are thinking about replacing an old system have a number of important considerations to take into account. Health information technology software is a large investment, and practices need to do in-depth research to ensure that they choose the right product. These five aspects should be carefully examined before choosing software so that the practice is in a good position to achieve its goals.

1. Software design
The most crucial - and obvious - consideration to make is about the software itself. The user interface of an EHR system will be largely responsible for the success or failure of integration. Medicine Economics recommended that practices choose software that is intuitive to use and easy to navigate. Staff will be looking at the program for hours each day, so it is important that the color, shape, placement and form of information is usable. Take adequate time to test each software and include staff members in the process. Even if the electronic files comply with regulation and are properly coded, adoption may fail if users struggle with the workflow.

2. Vendor reputation
When weighing EHR options from a number of different vendors, practices should take into account the reputation of each company. One of the best ways to do this is to get first-hand experiences from other practices. Physicians can ask other professionals about their software to gauge whether the company is stable, reliable and available.

EHRIntelligence explained that practices need to get assurance from the vendor that the software will be continually updated according to EHR incentive program requirements and federal regulations. Physicians and administrative staff should also be confident that the vendor will be available to resolve any technical problems during and after implementation.

3. Costs
While the initial investment must fit into the practice's budget, there are also long-term costs associated with EHRs that need to be considered. EHRIntelligence noted that certain systems require specific hardware, interfaces, networking, training and support resources that all add on to the price. Practices should take these additional services into account to get a comprehensive picture of what the technology will cost. If the physicians plan on connecting to a health information network or exchange, those investments need to be be accounted for, as well.

Return on investment should also be calculated when considering the cost. A good process will include an estimate the loss of productivity that will follow implementation, benefits from any incentive programs and how long it will take to regain the initial investment. The physicians and staff making the decision may also want to consider the impact the software will have on clinical efficiency. If the program's management function results in poorly handled claims, the practice may lose money from delayed or denied reimbursements.

4. Customization
The ability to change and customize the workflow of an EHR program is often crucial for success. Every practice has different procedures and needs, and there is no one-size-fits-all EHR. Users may want to talk with software vendors about the different customization options and how the program can be altered to suit their preferences. However, the system should not be able to change in ways that compromise security standards. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) recommended that practices bring real patient scenarios to a system demonstration and ask the vendor to demonstrate how the software can be adapted to optimize productivity in clinical situations.

5. Long-term goals
Practices should evaluate whether their chosen EHR system will further the organization's goals. Electronic files need to fit into the practice's strategic plan for growth and profitability. The AHIMA suggested that practices let their goals define the initial criteria for their EHR technology. These can include issues regarding coding, medication management, quality of care and patient satisfaction. If the practice is planning on attesting to Meaningful Use, joining an accountable care organization or participating in a health information exchange, these goals should all be reflected in the choice of EHR.

It is crucial that practices do not rush into EHR implementation, as the transition requires research, time and strategic planning. The AHIMA noted that for a sole practitioner, adopting a new health IT system takes an average of 12 to 18 months. This timeframe is longer in practices with multiple physicians, as there will be a greater number of design changes, system interfaces and templates to be made. Dedicating the proper time and preparation to the implementation process is crucial to success.

Kevin McCarthy's picture

Kevin McCarthy

Industry News Editor

An avid traveler and news junkie, Kevin covers a range of topics from healthcare technology to policy and regulations. As a former journalism student, he enjoys finding stories relevant to small practices and is passionate about keeping them informed. Before joining NueMD, Kevin worked for Turner Broadcasting as a Programming Intern where he conducted legal research and contributed to editorial content development. He received his bachelor's degree in Communication from Kennesaw State University and currently serves as the Industry News Editor at NueMD.

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