Thursday, August 30, 2007

Six Tips When Searching, Evaluating Electronic Medical Records Software Options

There are hundreds of electronic medical records systems on the market today, leaving physicians with the daunting task of reviewing dozens of medical software systems in their "free time" (as if physicians really have free time), often with little or no expert help. It's no wonder so many doctors are leery of buying an EMR and using it in their medical practice. Choosing the right EMR system doesn't have to be so difficult.

Jerome Carter, FACP, offers six tips for evaluating and selecting the right electronic medical record software, writing in the American College of Physicians' ACP Observer.

1. Create a policy to review EMR products. Don't begin contacting an EMR vendor until you've created a formal procedure for evaluating EMR software.

Carter recommends setting up regular meetings with both physicians and office staff in order to give everyone an opportunity to discuss their needs, fears and budget concerns, and to present unresolved questions to the group. Then, invent guidelines and ground rules for everything from contacting software vendors to reviewing their EMR or EHR products. Record everything you learn for future reference. You won't be able to remember all the information.

Saving Money with Electronic Medical Records: Cost Savings Tool

Carter says the EMR software evaluation process should take a few months if done properly, and allows that detailed and orderly notes will make the profess go more smoothly. It will also help when you're ready to submit a request for proposals (RFP) from EMR vendors.

2. Define the problems you want to solve with the medical software. Then, find all the EMR systems that contain the features you need. Carter calls this a problem-based selection process.

Ask and answer the critical questions that establish your physician practice's needs. Need remote access to electronic medical records? Want the ability to write prescriptions or identify patients who need preventive medicine? This is the time for these important questions.

You should list in as much detail as possible every single feature you want in an ideal EMR system. Your "EMR wish list" should be comprehensive but also specific. Listing "prescription writer" as a required feature, for example, doesn't provide enough detail to help you decide later between two systems, Carter notes. Instead, you might decide an ideal electronic medical records system will provide drug interaction information with user-controlled severity alerts. This level of detail lets you make much more precise comparisons between EMR systems.

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Carter warns this step should take at least four weeks, and up to six months if you're in a large physician practice. Once your list of required features and functions is complete, you are ready to take your first look at available EMR products.

3. Identify APPROPRIATE vendors. Yes, the market for electronic medical records EMR software is huge, but narrowing the field is not very difficult. Many EMR vendors target practices by size and/or specialty, and some vendors only sell their electronic medical records in certain parts of the country. Eliminating systems that do not fit your specialty or practice will remove a long list of EMR systems from consideration.

Don't forget to determine the economic vitality of the EMR vendors! Although there are many stable and profitable companies in the electronic medical records or medical software space, there are also many "fly by night" vendors hoping you won't ask hard questions about their financing and future prospects. You can measure the economic vitality of electronic medical records companies by reviewing industry surveys, asking how long they've been in business, examining the geographic spread of customers or reviewing financial statements.

4. Ask for and receive a demonstration (or "demo") copy of the EMR software. If you're considering an ASP (or web-based) electronic medical record system, ask for a live software demo. A demonstration copy will perform exactly like the real product, but the vendor will either limit the number of patients you can enter or the amount of time you can use the system.

Be careful when watching canned demonstrations where vendors walk you through a database with hypothetical patients. These types of EMR software demos can be valuable, but they can also be misleading. Stay on your toes - if you're paying

Helpful Advice When Selecting an Electronic Medical Records System

Once you have seen for yourself how the EMR software performs and you've received its accompanying product literature, you'll begin to assess how each software product meets your needs. It's important to quantify how each EMR system measures up, so assign a numerical score for important electronic medical records features and functions or use some other objective scoring system. Set a cut-off score and eliminate all products that do not exceed your scoring threshold, Carter advises.

5. Compare software features directly. If you have completed the problem-based selection properly, you should have no more than three to five potential EMR systems to evaluate. It is now time to compare the electronic medical records side by side to see which software system works best for your office.

You should narrow the field to three or fewer EMR systems at this point in the process. You're now ready to conduct a site visit.

Affordable EMR Software Packages

6. Go on site visits. Site visits, when conducted by educated consumers, are quite helpful when selecting an electronic medical records software system. Request a list of customers from each EMR vendor and contact the practices yourself, says Carter.

Decide the questions you'll ask each customer in advance, such as how well the EMR vendors respond to requests, how much software training time was provided, any EMR implementation difficulties, software upgrade schedules and specific electronic medical records features. Determine how well each EMR system would fit into your medical practice.

To view more advice from Carter, click here.

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