By Stephen Campbell
Selecting an electronic medical record (EMR) will be the most significant technology decision any medical facility will make. There are a wide variety of EMR options available to cover your practice, surgical centers and surgical hospitals. Having hundreds of choices gives you the ability to procure an EMR that will meet your needs, but also makes the decision a challenging one. Don’t be fooled into thinking that with so many choices you will find the perfect EMR. It does not exist, and most likely never will. Every EMR has strengths and weaknesses and your job is to try to match up the strengths with your needs while minimizing the impact of the weaknesses. Organizations that take on the difficult task of developing their own EMR still find they lack certain features and functions. Keep in mind that this is a tool to aid you in your clinical efforts and not an answer to poor clinical practices. If anything, it will point out your weaknesses as you go through the evaluation process. Be willing to address these before implementing a system.
When beginning your search for an EMR, the best approach an administrator or doctor can take is to put together a short list of successful EMR companies. There are myriad companies out there that can provide a nice demo, but then you may find out that they only have six implementations operational. Be careful as you approach these. You may fall in love with the interface or some whiz-bang feature only to later realize that there is a long list of items that are missing or coming in the “next release" just around the corner. If you put together a list of proven EMR companies with client implementation references, you will save yourself much time during the evaluation process.
Get some help in your evaluation! Many practices and surgical facilities are too busy doing procedures to have adequate time for a thorough evaluation of the current crop of EMR software providers. Enlist the help of your management company if you are so affiliated or an outside consultant to aid you in the process. The larger management companies have spent thousands of dollars in research and clinical criteria development tools that enable them to make a much more informed decision as it relates to features and functions that will be required. Seeking these recommendations can drastically reduce the time and cost to select a system and provider. When seeking an outside consultant, make sure they are not directly connected to a software provider and are free to recommend the proper system and not just the one they are selling. Develop a joint plan covering what the consultant can provide to you from their experience, and what methods they will use to uncover your specific needs.
Another selection criterion may include where your new system will be located. Many providers now offer both an onsite installation and a hosted model. The onsite installations require putting servers (computers running the EMR software) in your location and making sure you have someone to maintain them. Selecting the support provider factors into this decision almost as strongly as which EMR you choose. The EMR system will become the most critical computer system in your facility and making sure it is up and running will be paramount. A hosted system offers the benefit of having the server located at an alternate facility, and alleviates the need to ensure implementing an EMR possible at even smaller facilities.
Charges can be broken down by the number of users, operating rooms, or even by the number of doctors. Options may include a single upfront purchase or a pay-as-you-go fee, either monthly or quarterly. Look for pricing mechanisms that fit your needs. Many of these companies can create a plan the will make it work both financially and functionally.
As a facility looks to implement an EMR, they must remember that it is a large task. It is a change in the way you do your clinical practice and will require diligent effort from all parties to make it a success. The single most important contributor to a favorable outcome is the buy-in of your staff and doctors; involving everyone in the evaluation process an increase that likelihood.
Finding the right EMR will take time, energy and common sense. With all the choices out there make sure and take the time you need to conduct a thorough evaluation process and don’t rush to get something put in place. Request an onsite visit once a provider is selected and see the application in use. Getting real input from current users of the program can assist you in determining if the application will really meet your needs. If you take your time, do your research and plan for the amount of effort that will be required by your staff you can have a positive EMR selection and implementation experience.
Stephen Campbell is the chief operating officer of Mavicor. Mavicor is a leading healthcare information technology company specializing in technology management for surgery centers and surgical hospitals. Campbell can bereached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about Mavicor at www.mavicor.com