Searching for new electronic medical records software (EMR) is a daunting task. Between importing your data and learning to use the system, it’s a question you really want to get right the first time. But it’s hard to know where to start.

To make the job easier, I’ve identified seven questions to ask to help you filter through the long list of EMR options available to get you closer to the right EMR solution for your medical practice. The questions should help you narrow down your options, figure out which features you need, and help you navigate the process of communicating with vendors.

The first set is questions to ask yourself about your organization. The second set is questions to ask the vendors you’re considering.

Questions about your organization

1. Do you have practice management software?

If you already have medical practice management software or hospital management software you’ll want to make sure your EMR solution integrates with it, as not all do so seamlessly. You may also want an MPM solution that includes EMR functionality as opposed to a separate EMR.

If you don’t already have medical practice management software or hospital management software, you’ll probably want an EMR with management functionality instead of buying two separate systems and trying to integrate them.

Medical practice management functionality that you’ll likely want includes claims management, insurance eligibility verification, inventory management, and scheduling for patients and physicians. Learn more with our Medical Practice Management Software Features Guide.

2. Which features are important to you?

It’s estimated that nearly 75% of software features are never used. For example,Capterra’s research found that of those users with the ability to submit billing and claims electronically and integrate with mobile, less than half actually do.

To help predict which software features you’ll actually use, list the 15 to 20 critical processes of your practice.

Identify these first as it will help you quickly narrow down the list of software options. It will also prevent you from getting too caught up in all the bells and whistles.

3. Which organizations do you want to easily share records with?

Interoperability and data exchange should be a primary consideration when choosing an EHR. Interoperable EHRs cut down on paperwork, reduce costs, and make it easy for you and your patient to keep results in order and ready to view from anywhere.

From public health informatics, to routine lab work, to making sure all involved clinicians have a complete picture of each patient’s health, interoperability is a must-have EHR feature.

4. Do you want a solution designed for your specialty?

Many vendors offer EMR solutions that have been specifically designed for different specialties.

For example, a pediatrics practice may want their records to facilitate easy inputting of measurements as the child grows, and a vaccination schedule. But an oncology group needs neither of those features, but needs to schedule recurring radiation and chemotherapy treatments over many months. Or maybe you just need a specific kind of charting template.

If this is important, make sure to ask vendors how their solutions differ between specialties.

Questions to ask EMR vendors

1. Is your solution CCHIT and ONC-ATCB certified?

The extent to which each EHR can help you take advantage of Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) participation through a merit-based incentive payments system (MIPS) is, for some organizations, one of the most important considerations when choosing software.

If you do want to participate in MIPS and MACRA, you’ll need to eliminate solutions that are not CCHIT and ONC-ATCB certified from your consideration. You can do this in Capterra’s software directory by clicking the check box next to “ONC-ATCB Certified” and then clicking “Filter.”

But that’s just the beginning. Here are some questions to ask your vendor to determine whether your EHR is new payment model ready.

2. What does the patient portal offer?

Patient portals have become nearly ubiquitous among EHRs, in part because they’re incentivized under Meaningful Use. And for good reason. A patient portal with secure messaging can reduce no-shows, provide instant and secure information to authorized patients, and overall contribute to a highly interactive doctor-patient experience.

But not all patient portals are created equal.

When choosing an EHR system, ask the vendors whether patients can view the following using their portals:

  • Complete charts
  • Treatment plans, past and present
  • Diagnoses
  • Appointment history
  • Vaccination records
  • Lab results
  • Outstanding balances

It’s also helpful to find out whether patients can request refills and contact your practice directly through the portal.

This list isn’t comprehensive, but it will get you started.

3. How much will support and training cost?

No matter what type of software, user reviews consistently highlight support and training as a key factor. There are three things you need to know about the customer support offered by a software vendor:

  • What kind of support and training does the vendor offer?

Do they offer real-time support via phone or live chat? Is it 24/7? Do they offer detailed FAQs or a support forum?

  • How much does it cost?

This is especially pertinent when it comes to setup and training. Many vendors charge for this service, which needs to factor into your overall costs.

  • What do customers think about it?

Once you know the facts, it’s time to get into the experience. Are the agents helpful, knowledgeable, and friendly? How long does it take to get a response? To get the lowdown, read EHR software reviews.

A final recommendation

Don’t rush into a purchase. Take the time to compare your options and get clear answers from vendors before laying your money down. To learn more, check out our medical software research page for pricing guides, features guides, and infographics.

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