Selecting and Choosing an EHR: Five questions to ask

How to choose the right EHR

According to a 2014 report, only 50.7% of providers are using a fully-functional EHR — and more than 40% of providers using an EHR are thinking about switching their system. Selecting the right EHR system can improve patient outcomes and save time and money for your practice, but how do you choose the right one?

Start by finding out what existing users think of their EHR in the 2014 Black Book rankings. Brown-Wilson asks physicians every year to rate the top EHRs on the market for its annual survey. In 2014, over 22,000 physicians participated in the survey, ranking EHRs on criteria such as Support and Customer Care, Reliability, Implementation, and Training.

After you’ve created a list of potential EHRs, contact the vendors to schedule a demo and ask them the questions below:

1. Does this EHR meet my current and future needs?

Establish the requirements (and nice-to-haves) of your new EHR, and see if the vendor’s EHR addresses them.

Questions to ask the vendor:

  • Is it easy to use?
  • How does it ensure the privacy, security, and backup of my files?
  • Does it integrate with other products, such as practice management software, billing systems, and public health registries?
  • Is it certified for Meaningful Use Stage 1 and Stage 2?
  • Can it help meet PQRS standards?
  • Will it fully support ICD-10 at the deadline?
  • How often are new features released?
  • Is it HIPAA compliant?
  • Does the vendor integrate ideas submitted by users?

2. Is it affordable?

Some EHRs have a high initial sticker price. Others may cost less, but require a hefty fee to maintain or upgrade certain features, such as e-prescribing. Others are free, but don’t have all the features or support you need. Spending on EHRs is projected to jump this year, so make sure you know all the current and projected costs of your EHR down the road.

Questions to ask the vendor:

  • What is the start-up price?
  • Will I have to buy any licenses, and how often will I have to renew them?
  • Are there upgrades free?
  • Is there a fee for interfacing with labs or imaging centers?
  • Does any functionality require a fee?
  • Will I have to upgrade my existing hardware?
  • Is there an added cost with customizing workflow templates?

3. Will the transition be easy?

The ability to implement quickly and get your staff up to speed is vital to ensuring a smooth transition for your practice. Cloud-based EHRs can prevent the headache of buying new hardware and installing a system, but any EHR you choose has to be easy to use to make training your staff quick and efficient. Get a clear understanding from the vendor on the implementation process and timeline.

Questions to ask the vendor:

  • How long will it take to get started?
  • Is training provided?
  • Is there assistance for scanning paper files or transferring electronic files?
  • What’s the typical length of time for practices to get up and running with this EHR?

4. What kind of support will I receive?

Even with a system that’s easy to use, helpful and available customer service is key to help you get the most out of your EHR. Some of your staff may require a little extra help to get started, learn a new feature, or understand something like Meaningful Use.

Questions to ask the vendor:

  • What support will I receive during and after implementation?
  • Is your support unlimited? Is it free?
  • Do you offer support from live people?
  • If I have an issue, how will you help me resolve it?

5. Is this EHR certified?

To capture and share patient data efficiently, practices need an EHR that stores information in a structured format. CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) have established criteria and standards for structured data that EHRs must use in order to qualify for government-sponsored incentive programs.

To get an incentive payment, you must use an EHR that is certified specifically for the EHR Incentive Programs.

Questions to ask the vendor:

  • Is this EHR certified for Meaningful Use?
  • What programs can I participate in with this EHR?

To find out what existing users think of their EHR, check out the Black Book rankings. Brown-Wilson asks physicians every year to rate the top EHRs on the market for its annual survey. This year, over 22,000 physicians participated in the survey, ranking EHRs are criteria such as Support and Customer Care, Reliability, Implementation, and Training.

Evaluating your current EHR

Already have an EHR? With spending on EHRs expected to jump as high as 80% by 2015, it’s critical that your practice’s time and money are being spent on the best possible system for your practice. Evaluate your current EHR by asking the questions below.

1. Is your EHR improving your practice’s efficiency?

If you’ve fully implemented an EHR and you don’t feel your practice is seeing increased efficiency in your day-to-day workflows, then it’s probably time to start evaluating other systems that may work better for you.

2. Does your practice have the support and resources you need?

Regular and ongoing support issues with your EHR are probably a good indicator that there are better solutions to meet your practice’s needs. If technical issues are interfering with your workflow, requiring staff time to resolve, or raising the cost of your EHR budget, it’s probably time to move on from your current vendor. Evaluate if you have all the support and resources you need with the following questions:

  • How often do you have issues with your EHR that require staff time to reach out to your vendor for help?
  • Is support from your vendor free?
  • Is support available to you 24/7 via web trainings (videos and webinars) and forums when you can’t talk to a live person?

3. Is your EHR affordable?

The average physician’s office spends $44,000 over five years implementing an EHR, and only 27% of physician practices report a net positive gain on their investment in an EHR. If your EHR costs are constantly rising, and the incremental costs of operating your system aren’t what the vendor told you they would be, you can find a better solution that meets your needs while still being affordable — if not free.