Big Healthcare has known about the advantages of an electronic medical record system for years. In fact, large hospitals and HMOs were the early adopters of these systems, some stretching back to the not-so-good old days of the 1990s, when green screens and arduous UNIX interfaces were all the rage.
Yes, collecting and digitizing patient records has been an important part of managing large healthcare organizations for quite a long time, and has provided ROI well beyond the expense of the original systems.
But what of the small, single doctor practice? What about the clinic with three to five doctors operating in one or two locations? Between 1990 and 2004, these doctors were noticeably absent from electronic medical record system adoption. In fact, it wasn't until Windows PCs became extraordinarily cheap, and user interfaces got graphical that small practices even considered computerizing. The expense was just too great.
Cue the 2009-2010 Federal Stimulus program, and suddenly there is money for every doctor to jump aboard the EMR software train. As a result EMR consultation industry has virtually exploded as doctors rush to claim their stimulus dollars (try saying "free government money" at any Chamber of Commerce meeting, and watch the ears prick up).
Of course, it isn't as easy as just picking a vendor and watching the dollars roll in. There are a number of things a good electronic medical record system should be. Here are just a few examples:
Easy To Use - Yes, no matter how amazingly tech savvy your office people are (really?), the biggest consideration you should give when selecting an EMR system is how easy it is to use. Why? Because ease of use is so critical not only to initial adoption, but day-to-day operations. If your staff is calling support five times a day looking for a solution, how much time is there left for your patients? Plus, when you first install, you're going to need to train the staff. These costs can mount. Now imagine that the system is so difficult that the staff members can't properly train each other. See where the costs build up? A final fact is that difficult systems take longer to master, and can actually become hated by your staff. The result? No one is happy. Especially not you.
Run On Simple Hardware - Looking for a UNIX system with single color monitor and specialized language interface? We don't know why you would be. Today, any electronic medical record system with any kind of client base simply must be Windows oriented. It helps with the learning process, as Windows programs tend to have recognizable interfaces, but it's also key because of the hardware. Basically, Windows computers are cheap. So if one goes down, $200-500 will get you a pretty great machine. EMR systems that run on "specialized hardware" are a bad idea. Avoid them like the plague.
CCHIT-Certified - Question: what happens when the government offers a certain subgroup of the software industry a big subsidy? Answer: every programmer with a shingle and a pickup truck becomes a part of that subgroup. Everyone "becomes" an expert seemingly overnight. This is exactly what has happened to the electronic medical record software industry. Which is why, thankfully, experienced vendors, teaming up with real doctors, have gotten together to create set of standards aimed at leaving the bandwagon jumpers behind. It's called CCHIT. And it ensures that you aren't getting ripped off by a slightly less than credible vendor. It takes an advanced EMR software application to qualify for CCHIT status, so ensuring your electronic medical record system is approved will save you a lot of heartache, both short and long term.
This is just the beginning when it comes to finding a good EMR vendor. Adopting an EMR system is no joke, and there are a lot of things you should look at.