As a doctor you may not be able to completely avoid burdensome healthcare regulations or government EHR mandates, but you can at least minimize the cost of those mandates by implementing one of the many free Electronic Medical Records software options.
Below are the seven best free EMR products you should be considering.
This is the gorilla in the room for free EMR products. Practice Fusion has over 17,000 customers and more than 100,000 users, and is pretty much the first name you’ll hear whenever someone mentions “free” and “EMR” in the same sentence. It’s a web-based EMR that targets everyone from individual doctors, to small practices, and up to large medical groups. The software is completely free, and is ad-supported (meaning you will see relevant ads within the software). If you’d like to turn off the ads, you can request an ad-free version starting at $100 per month. Billing is not included in the software and going with one of Practice Fusion’s integrated billing partners can be an additional fee.
Practice Fusion is backed with hundreds of millions in venture funding, and that money has been put to good use with the modern interface and intuitive design. The software is easy to use and simple to get started on. Full support is included and can supply great “hand holding” for those new to electronic health systems and those just switching. It’s also got an array of slick pre-made templates and will integrate with tablets. Practice Fusion is certified for Meaningful Use for 2014, so you also qualify for EHR stimulus funds if you use it.
All that said, the product doesn’t allow for much customization beyond templates, and users have reported issues with interfacing with LabCorp and Quest Laboratory for lab results. Additionally, lack of support for recurring appointments and the use of Adobe Flash (hampering access on mobile devices) may also cause frustration.
Kareo has offered medical billing software for years, but only recently started offering a free, web-based EHR software product. It’s built on clinical knowledge bases from Epocrates and targets smaller physician practices and group practices. Kareo EHR operates on a “freemium” model, meaning the EHR software is free, and the company hopes you go on to buy their other, premium, products like practice management and billing.
This is another slick, cloud-based EMR, and the interface is modern and easy to use. Additionally, Kareo EHR is “mobile by design” and plays very well with tablets like iPads (it uses a native mobile app available in the Apple App Store) and smartphones. The software is Meaningful Use certified as well, and integrates with all the major labs, allowing for electronic orders and results.
On the flip side, some have complained Kareo’s EHR is too simple, and that if you want some additional functionality, like appointment reminders or patient statements, you’ll be forced to upgrade. Kareo’s Practice Management software starts at $74.50 a month
Hello Health is another recent web-based EMR that is offered at no cost. They target primary care and pediatrics practices, and the revenue model is a bit more unintuitive than the two previous solutions. Rather than operate on an ad-supported or freemium model, Hello Health offers the core EMR functionality for free, but then charges patients, rather than doctors, for access to a patient portal that allows for perks like online scheduling, direct communication with the physician, and the option for video conference “virtual visits.” Patients can (but are not required to) pay $36 to $120 annually for this access. Additionally, a portion of this is given back to the practice and Hello Health claims practices can earn up to $20,000 a year by using their EMR.
Another modern system with an emphasis on functionality, Hello Health has a clean user interface, and recently came out with a patient portal mobile app. It is certified for Meaningful Use, and the unique payment model means Hello Health could actually end up paying you, rather than the other way around for using their system.
The other side of that coin is that you may end up alienating some patients by asking them to pay extra (even if the fee is minimal) for your use of the EMR. The portal functionality and concierge services that Hello Health offers patients for a fee are, in some cases, being offered to patients for free from other vendors, so this could be seen by some patients as not worth it.
This is the most popular of the open source EMR options, with 3,000-5,000 downloads per month. Being open source, OpenEMR is not web-based, but can run on Windows, Linux, Mac OSX and other operating systems as an installed or self-hosted program.
With so many downloads and users, OpenEMR has a very active support community if you have any issues, questions with installation and more. In fact, the community has been referenced by just about every review online as “great” and “extremely helpful.” Additionally, customization, assuming your office has someone with tech skills, is quite doable and the open source code allows for all sorts of add-ons and tweaks.
Unfortunately, while OpenEMR is ONC Complete Ambulatory EHR certified, it is not yet Stage II certified for Meaningful Use. It is Stage I certified and the project is currently raising money for Stage II, which it hopes to have completed by July, 2014. Additionally, the UI is a little dated compared to the freemium and ad-supported options referenced above.
Another open source EMR, OpenMRS has been around for quite some time. Begun in 2004, it’s seen adoption by a number of government agencies and local international healthcare nonprofits and universities like the Millennium Villages Project and the University of Virginia. OpenMRS is an EMR platform, rather than an EMR, meaning it “enables design of a customized medical records system with no programming knowledge.”
Because OpenMRS is a platform, rather than a developed system, it can be easily customized to meet specific needs. This makes it ideal for creating EMR systems in developing countries (where, for instance, they wouldn’t need the insurance information that a US-based practice might) and the tons of add-on modules and easily accessible API allow for even further customization.
Because OpenMRS is not a fully-formed EMR program, it does require an upfront investment of time and energy to create a customized EMR. Additionally, while programming knowledge is not required to create the EMR, in-depth medical and systems analysis knowledge is.
VistA is an EMR developed by the US Department of Veterans Affairs to handle the records of the eight million veterans they provide care to. Its source code was made public domain under the Freedom of Information Act, and it’s available for download on the VA’s website. There are also a number of communities further developing VistA separate from the VA, of which OSEHRA is one of the most well known.
VistA is, literally, the largest EMR implementation on the planet. It’s battle hardened and proven, and you (likely) don’t have to worry about the provider going out of business anytime soon. The system is ideal for large organizations and hospitals, and has almost daily updates rolled out do address any issues and to make improvements.
However, VistA is an older program, so it’s not as user-friendly or easy to maintain as some of the more modern solutions out there. It also is a “megasuite” product, like Epic or Cerner, where you get all the functionality in one product, but you’re essentially stuck within that “ecosystem” for all your medical software needs.
This last solution is also open source, and, founded in 1999, one of the longest-running open source EMRs out there. It boasts over 81,000 downloads and implementation in everything from small private practices to large government hospitals.
FreeMD has a long pedigree, and this, along with an active support community, contributes to stability and support.
That said, it looks like development has petered off recently, with the last developer discussions ending in July of 2012. If this product is of interest to you, make sure you have a tech-savvy person or team on hand to develop or modernize the software going forward.
And there you have it. Seven free solutions to meet your EMR needs. What did I miss? Are you using or aware of any other great free EMRs out there?
Looking for Electronic Medical Records software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Electronic Medical Records software solutions.