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No one size fits all: The questions specialists should ask when selecting an EHR

Eric Nilsson, Chief Technology Officer, NexTech Systems
Eric Nilsson, Chief Technology Officer, NexTech Systems

According to the most recent Medscape EHR report, fewer than half of all physicians – 42 percent – are satisfied with their current electronic health record (EHR) system. If you’re among the satisfied users, particularly if you’re a specialist, it’s probably because your practice asked the right questions before making a selection. If you’re not among those who are satisfied and are thinking of switching EHRs, asking the following five questions of each vendor you consider can ensure that your next EHR is a better choice for you in particular.

What functionality does the EHR offer to my specialty?

Data consistently shows a correlation between EHR satisfaction and the degree to which the system is designed for the type of practice using it. A system that works just fine for a primary care provider may be missing features and functions that are necessary for specialists – one-size-fits-all solutions don’t typically “fit all” when it comes to user productivity and user workflows. Before solidifying a relationship with a potential vendor, you should ask yourself: What templates will you get that are designed for your specialty? How many users of your type does the vendor have, and can you talk to reference accounts? If the vendor has deep knowledge of the needs of your specialty, and can connect you with users like you, who speak highly of the solution, you’re on the road to the right choice.

To what degree can the EHR be personalized to support workflows?

This question gets you further down the road to satisfaction. We have some 800,000 physicians in the U.S. today[1]. Add to that the scribes, technicians, physician assistants and other staff who will use the system, and there are countless preferences for each individual workflow. In order to ensure individual productivity is not hindered by the EHR, it is vital to determine if the vendor will investigate how your practice conducts workflow and fine-tune the implementation accordingly. Additionally, practices should ask whether the EHR templates can be customized to support individual productivity and if the users can do that themselves. In some cases, there may be significant costs for customization and personalization, so be sure to ask this upfront.

What infrastructure is required of my office to run the EHR software?

This is one question providers often consider an afterthought, when it actually has everything to do with how successful you’ll be with an EHR. From an equipment and IT perspective, what are the system’s networking and hardware requirements? Once you know the requirements, ask yourself how you’ll handle them. Will it be with your own IT resources, the EHR vendor or a third party support resource? Any are acceptable answers; just make sure that in addition to getting the EHR that best meets your needs, you’re prepared to run the system.

What is the EHR implementation process, and how long will it be until I’m fully up and running?

There are really three aspects to the implementation question. First, what data conversion services does the vendor offer? Unless this is your first EHR, you’ll need to get data from your current system into the new one. Next, what assistance will the vendor provide in getting everything connected and fully operating? Find out the degree to which you’ll get help in becoming operational. Finally, how long will it be until you’re productive? If you’re told you’ll be up-and-running in a certain number of weeks, ask if that includes all device integration, data conversion and training to the point that all staff will be fully productive and fully capable. If not, you may incur additional expenses on the way to being successful.

What post-implementation support do you offer?

Having chosen an EHR designed for your specialty, personalized to your workflows, with infrastructure fully accounted for and an implementation process that meets your needs, ask what post-implementation optimization the vendor offers, remotely or on-site. Rather than just being wished “good luck” after implementation, determine whether the vendor will revisit after implementation to perform any tweaking needed to address issues you and your staff discover during actual use. Second, make sure that service support hours reflect your needs, to ensure your questions can be answered promptly.