Community Health Centers Need Quality EHR Systems Too

Over 20 million people in the US receive their primary health care from federally qualified health centers (FQHC). These health centers focus on providing care to those who are uninsured, rely on public programs such as Medicaid and those with private coverage. With over 7900 sites nationally and 25,000 health care professionals, FQHC are an integral part of the nation’s health care system and safety net.

I have spent the past twenty four hours at the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) Annual Meeting in San Diego. After just one day, I have learned a lot about how the EMR industry has failed these health centers. It is sad, but true that many of these users are struggling to make due with costly EHR implementations that don’t do what was promised and create hours of additional work for providers.

I spent the morning speaking with the CEO of a health center in the western US. He described a scenario where he spent a huge amount of money (particularly for a health center with limited funds) on a client-server EHR solution. After one year using the product, his providers still struggle with using the system. They spend 1-3 hours per night after the health center closes finishing their chart notes. The EHR has, in fact, limited rather than improved their productivity and has failed to deliver on one of the major promises initially made – the tracking of criteria upon which all FQHC must report on an annual basis. Despite the hefty cost and annual maintenance costs of nearly $100k, this health center relies on a third party data mining software to extract the required insights that are sent to the federal government. The CEO has requested more training and implementation assistance since adopting the product one year ago and has received no help, despite his willingness to pay.

This story is just one of many that underscore the problem with the legacy EHR vendors – big promises, little support and resulting low return on investment. This sad lesson rings particularly true as it pertains to some of the most vulnerable populations in the country. A health center serving low income populations with extremely high rates of uninsurance should not spend tens of thousands of dollars for a health information technology system that slows them down and pulls valuable funds from the populations they are meant to serve. We therefore have significant incentive to invest heavily in user experience and constantly improving workflow. Our success is closely tied to that of the provider and that is why Practice Fusion receives such strong accolades from its users.

This NACHC event is a good reminder of why it is important to approach the EHR industry differently and how a unique approach can make a significant difference for millions of lives.