1. Take ownership of the decision. Your EMR software will impact how you practice medicine, so this is not a process that should be delegated to back-office staff or the local "computer guy." While your staff should play a key role in selection, this process demands medical expertise and leadership that only the physician can provide. What if your computer guy selected a system based on an underlying database he liked, but failed to recognize that the system forces you into rigid workflows that change how you interact with your patients? Take ownership of the selection process to avoid buying the wrong EMR!
2. Determine your own requirements. Too many physicians let software salesmen drive the selection process. Only you know how you should practice medicine. Therefore, it's critical to map out your ideal workflow and how you interact with office staff to complete a patient visit. Do you want to limit the system to electronic charting, or do you want and end-to-end solution that extends all the way to claim management? At the same time, realize that your interactions with software vendors are good opportunities to learn new best practices and workflows that could improve the way you work. Based on your initial requirements and those that arise during the selection process, build a comprehensive list of features and then prioritize them based on what will provide the most value to your practice. Realize that you can phase in new modules over time.
3. Get the right EMR for your specialty. Most EMR products are designed to serve a wide range of medical practices while others are designed for specialties. There are benefits and drawbacks to each approach. The narrow focus of a specialty EMR vendor allows them to design their systems around the unique needs of physicians within their target market. For example, an OB/GYN EMR
would have special screens designed for ante partum visits. This results in a more familiar workflow for the specialist and less customization of the software. At the same time, specialty vendors may be challenged to generate enough revenue enough to support the wide range of ongoing development required by client demand, government mandates and device integration.
Large, broadly-focused vendors may have more resources and broader reach, but may not offer specialty features and workflows. Ask the larger, more generic vendors how they will meet your unique requirements and request references from customers within your specialty.
4. Integrate practice management. In addition to EMR functionality, consider how you want your system to support medical billing
, patient scheduling
and practice management. Do you want all of these functions in one complete suite, or should your EMR interface with existing systems? There are advantages to managing clinical and practice management functions in a single system. For example, an integrated coding engine can help physicians to develop more accurate claims during the encounter, reducing the need to "down code" or have staff scrub the claim later. Meanwhile, health alerts made available during scheduling ensure a higher quality of care and patient compliance. On the other hand, many practices have already made significant investments in their existing practice management systems or third party billing services. Simple integration may suffice.
5. Focus on ease-of-use. Medicine is complex enough without software making things more difficult. Therefore, it's critical to find a system that makes each encounter easier, not harder. The system must be highly intuitive and easy-to-use. The simplest way to evaluate ease-of-use is to use a demo copy yourself. Try to manage a common process such as documenting a frequent diagnosis. Did you figure it out right away? These days, the right software
should make it easy. Features that can augment ease-of use include on-line help functions, tablet or stylus interfaces and voice recognition. Ease-of-use will be especially important when staff turns over and you need a new employee up-to-speed quickly.