5 Things to Look for From Your EHR Vendor
Electronic health records (EHRs) are here to stay, even as many EHR vendors are starting up, shutting down, or offering new products. EHRs have gotten a mixed reception from providers and practices, with many complaints lingering long after implementation.
Compare this to the generally high satisfaction ratings of billing and revenue cycle management (RCM) systems, which have been around for longer than EHRs, and you’ll see that there is a different design philosophy for these types of products.
With Medicare’s meaningful use program facing a major transformation, even as CMS prepares to implement Stage 3, let’s take a look at the qualities that a good EHR vendor and product should have, that most RCM and practice management software vendors already have.
If your current vendor doesn’t have them, it may be time to consider a change, with an eye toward a future that is guaranteed to see increased adoption of health information technology.
- A tendency to eliminate pain points and not add more. One of the biggest issues raised against EHR systems is that they impede workflow. Physicians must spend an inordinate amount of time performing tasks that they found simple on paper. Rather than help reduce the amount of steps for a task, EHR systems add more. Looking at RCM systems, they are designed to make providers’ lives as easy as possible. Every function exists because there was a demand for it. Practices that do not like those functions can usually ignore them without the system getting upset or refusing to save changes made. A good EHR should try to emulate this approach by having different levels of specificity for physicians and their staff. They should allow for more fields to be left blank and still have a valid record that saves changes. In fact, good EHR system allow an option to hide these fields until the physician asks for them. For example, clinical conditions that have no lateral diagnosis shouldn’t even ask for one. Naturally, the trend towards excess specificity can be attributed to the ICD-10 transition, but EHR systems are still guilty of asking for too much information and requiring too many clicks to perform simple actions.
- An implementation process that follows actual provider workflow. One of the biggest sources of EHR complaints is the fact that, to implement them, many physicians must rebuild their workflow process from scratch. EHR systems are demanding details before the patient is even fully admitted, requiring staff to ask more personal questions than before, some of which the patient is not capable of answering. The end goal is that patients will receive more outcome-focused treatment as a result of their condition being outlined earlier, but not everyone has symptoms that comply with this “expediency.” Instead, workflow is disrupted and frustrated, making providers yearn for the days when they could do it their own way. A good EHR vendor should actively solicit feedback from providers to create more intuitive workflow structures for their systems. Better yet, they should allow physicians and staff to have options for modifying workflow that don’t get in the way of critical functions. When EHRs are configured to work within existing processes, they can become a boon rather than a burden.
- An ability to talk with many other systems. There’s a huge gap in the usability of RCM systems compared to EHRs, which can make EHRs feel dated. Your EHR system can often feel isolated because it’s difficult to communicate with your other systems like coding, billing or patient intake. This problem stems from the fact that EHR software development is still in its infancy, whereas RCM software evolved from enterprise-level financial software that was scaled down and made more user-friendly. EHRs must go through the same transition and learn to play nice with the other systems. Look for a vendor that talks about interoperability and prioritizes this function.
- A flexible platform that lets providers use many devices. Even in 2016, many EHR systems aren’t compatible with mobile devices, or won’t work with certain Internet browsers on computers. When vendors force users out of their comfort zone into their systems’ preferred environment, they generate friction and reduce productivity. While EHRs have become more compatible, they aren’t up to par with other systems like RCM or content-management systems like WordPress. Look for an EHR vendor with products that give your providers the freedom to use mobile devices such as phones and tablets so they aren’t tied to workstations and can get more face-time in close proximity to patients.
- A robust support service for training and troubleshooting. EHR systems are still relatively new, so both your providers and staff will need many hours of training before they become comfortable using them and maximizing their efficiency. Many EHR vendors simply seem to accept that any EHR transition is going to be tough, and leave their customers to sink or swim. The reality is that their customers need hand-holding, and many usability issues are due to bad design by non-clinicians rather than user error. Look for EHR vendors who provide a high level of hands-on support in the form of live representatives, free online training, and fast technical support when problems arise. Just like any business, the more proactive a vendor is about responding to problems, the better their customer satisfaction.
EHRs have room to grow and learn from RCM
As mentioned earlier, EHR systems have many conceptual and design differences from RCM systems, but they can still learn from each other. Currently, a lack of effective, forward-thinking EHR vendors, along with providers’ understandable reluctance to switch systems and suffer through implementation again, even when they’re unhappy with what they have, is a source of ongoing frustration from providers.
As EHRs mature, look for a few market disrupters to set a new, much higher standard for how EHRs work within providers’ processes instead of the other way round. There will be an EHR parallel to iPhones – a product that made smartphones accessible to mainstream consumers. Until then, all providers can do is make customization requests of their vendors, or simply jump ship and find a vendor that embodies the five desirable traits above.
— Danial Schwartz is a content strategist who sheds light on various engaging and informative topics related to the health IT industry. He is passionate about topics such as Affordable Care Act, EHR, revenue cycle management, and privacy and security of patient health data. He can be contacted at https://twitter.com/dschwartz20.