A good electronic health record ( EHR ) system effectively stores patients’ health information electronically and uses computer-aided decision support systems to improve safety and the quality of healthcare. The government encourages health practitioners to adopt EHR systems because they can reduce healthcare costs and enhance decision-support capabilities of users. A manual order entry system is inefficient and more expensive. A physician may have to wait endlessly for lab reports to reach his desk or spend more time in administration.

Implementing an electronic health record system enables a physician to focus on more important activities and significantly contributes to a medical practice’s savings. But choosing the right electronic health record ( EHR ) system for your healthcare facility may not that simple. There are hundreds ofcompanies in the market that claim to sell a system you are searching for, but the fact is very few of them will actually deliver what you really want. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the sales pitch EMR reps may make once they identify you as a prospective client and the demonstrations may not address your practice needs. In fact, the canned demonstrations provided by most EMR salespeople should be shortened drastically, and you should try to control the demo, asking to see features that are important in your practice.

It’s important that you select the best EHR system because it will significantly impact the efficiency of your medical practice. A lot is riding on your decision and therefore it is very important that you take your time to make an informed decision. These systems are usually very expensive and need thorough research before you actually purchase and install the EHR in your healthcare facility. It is good to know what you are looking for, otherwise you may be trapped by vendors attempting to sell something you don’t need. Having applications you don’t require is very frustrating.  Be sure that you make a list of problems you are currently facing within your practice as well as identify the areas of improvement. Speak with your colleagues to determine what benefits they derived when acquiring this technology, and what problems they experienced during and subsequent to EMR implementation.

Once you write down your practice’s needs and recognize the problem areas, you will have a better understanding about what you want from an EHR system. Perhaps you want a system that minimizes the time spent in searching for patients’ medical records or simply want a more efficient billing system. Some physicians want to have a world class electronic prescribing feature. After the passage of the HITECH Act, most physicians will also want to cash in on the stimulus fincancial incentives. In a nut shell you must know what applications you want before exploring the vendor market. Once you identify your specific needs consider completing a request for proposal (RFP) to  inform the EMR vendors about your demands.

Try completing at least a few such forms so that you can receive enough responses to compare the various EHR products. Many forms are available for free on certain websites and with a little research on the internet you can find these well-prepared RFPs.

At this point you may wonder how to choose the recipients of these RFP forms. This may be easy if you do some basic research to see if the solutions offered by the EHR vendors have good ratings by previous clients. You can also find out if the electronic health record system offered by the buyer is suitable for your practice size . Very few EHR vendors serve practices of all sizes and they typically target niche markets for small (1-15 healthcare providers), mid-sized (10- 99) or large practices (more than 100).

Selecting the best EHR vendors to send your forms to will save you from future disappointment as some solution providers may not respond to queries from buyers that don’t fall into their target market. Similarly, if you have a large practice and are sending these forms to EHR vendors who only serve small or mid–sized companies, you may receive quotes that are of no significance.

Once you have received all of the responses you can begin reviewing the responses of each EHR vendor. The vendor with the highest ratings should be at the top of your list and usually their representative can schedule a product demonstration.  A typical demonstration will likely take around three hours and it will be of benefit if other colleagues or end users can attend these events. Encourage these people to attend all the demonstrations so that you can select the best electronic health record system for your healthcare facility.

These events will require additional work hours, so be ready to hear excuses from other participants. They may dislike spending their free time working and may not agree to sit through every demonstration. Sometimes EHR vendors may also fail to show up to a scheduled demonstration. When they do visit, they will be accompanied by a team comprised of sales professionals and sometimes a physician who will highlight the benefits of their solution in front of your group.

When this team arrives, ask them few questions related to the specific needs of your facility and try to ask the same questions to all the vendors. Don’t be impatient – wait to ask questions once the entire demonstration is over. Focus on the electronic health record system’s ability to help end users and also the ease of use. Ask all of the members in your group to rate these vendors and solutions and make a comparison chart at the end of the EHR demonstrations.

You can also ask for previous clients that are currently using their EHR solutions and talk to them before making a purchase decision. The most important factors to consider while searching for the best EHR are its functionality, ease of implementation, cost of ownership and other related services offered by the vendor. Ideally, the product must have all of the features you need and should suit your budget. Ask if there are any hidden costs such as implementation and maintenance charges. You should also find out if the training is provided by the EHR vendor. This is important since your staff will need help using the new system and its various features.

Try not to focus completely on the cost as the EHR system has to be easy to use and easy to implement. It should also be scalable so that it can meet your future needs. It will also help to know the financial stability of your vendor since the company may not be available to provide support services with a weak financial background. Some vendors don’t discuss the costs involved in hiring new IT staff, regular network upgrades or even licenses required to set up the EHR system in hospitals or private practices. It is common for vendors to talk only about the EHR software charges and thus you must specifically ask these questions before you decide to buy.

The demonstrations will narrow your search to a few vendors ranked by your team and you may then consider visiting actual practices that are using the EHR systems. Choose a site similar to your practice and ask some colleagues to accompany you on these visits. Don’t hesitate to ask questions to the current EHR users and make notes for future reference. At the end of these short visits you will be in a position to decide the best EHR vendor for your practice. Try negotiating the price with your top EHR vendors and this may help you get the best deal. This entire process can take anywhere between six to twelve months and will help ensure you are choosing a system that delivers exactly what you need.

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