As healthcare goes electronic, there are lots of EHR options available, and it can be challenging to figure out what differentiates your choices. What sets a system apart from its competitors, and how can you find the right program for your practice?
While there are many factors involved, the following 5 tips are some crucial (and often overlooked) questions to ask EHR vendors to help you narrow the selection.
Training & Support
It doesn’t matter how incredible a system is; if you and your staff aren’t adequately trained on how to use it, it’s worthless to you. An EHR is only as strong for your organization as the knowledge of how to make the most of it, which means that thorough training and support are essential.
What kind of training does the vendor offer, what is their plan to get all of your staff thoroughly up to speed? Obviously, training is quite different for front-desk staff, providers, billing, and accounting—how does the vendor train each group? How much time will it take—how long will your employees be pulled away from their regular duties to train? Ask for a specific proposed schedule for your organization so you can see exactly how they implement this crucial piece of EHR acquisition.
After the initial training, what support is offered? Ask for specifics: is customer service available by phone or only email? What hours is someone available to help you? If you can’t get an answer immediately, when can you expect a call or email back? Is a help desk, training videos or other types of supplemental support offered as well? Imagine the possible scenarios for your practice needing help with a new system and your ideal solution—how does that compare to what the vendor is offering?
One mistake that organizations often make is underestimating the investment that an EHR requires. In order to successfully use an electronic system long term, you have to get all of your data uploaded, both for your patients and the practice itself; this includes converting paper charts into an electronic format if necessary and can be quite time-consuming. We’ve already touched on the importance of training all of your staff and ensuring that they are proficient in the new system, which is no small feat. You also have to allow for testing of the new program, identifying areas of weakness and addressing them.
All of these necessary tasks require the time and commitment of your staff, who are usually already incredibly busy. How does the EHR vendor assist with this process? Similar to asking about their training & support plan, ask them to provide an implementation proposal for your practice: with the amount of data import that you have and the size of your staff, what’s their plan to make this transition as smooth and efficient as possible?
Full List of Costs
Ask for the total cost. Is training and/or support charged? Some vendors require training to be conducted on-site. If you have to cover the travel costs for either a trainer and/or your employees – or if training is billed hourly – that significantly increases the price tag and needs to be factored in. Some vendors offer their system in pieces: for example, the EHR is separate from the practice management system and both have their own cost. Some have add-on costs for certain pieces of functionality, like appointment reminders. Compile a list of the features you need, and ask for the bottom line price, including training, support, any data migration necessary and the implementation proposal offered—are there any extra costs for this, and what is the final price tag of the system for your practice?
Compliance & Security
How does the EHR help you maintain security? Is it HIPAA-compliant? We all know that security and compliance is a critical component of health care, especially with the HIPAA Omnibus revisions of 2013 and the upcoming transition to ICD-10. Keeping PHI (protected health information) secure is one of the driving reasons for having an electronic system – ask the vendor how their EHR enhances your security.
Have them show you how their system is HIPAA compliant and ensures your practice is protected. How does it make sure that your staff can only see the PHI they are approved to view? Does the program give warnings to staff for actions that may compromise security? How does it handle industry-wide changes, like the upcoming transition to ICD-10? Are there reports and logs available so you can research any breaches or issues? Can you tell who created a particular action in the system? You want an EHR that enhances the security of your practice and ensures full compliance with all of the regulations that you are accountable to; ask the vendor to show you how they handle this need.
Getting Your Data Out
You’ve found a system that seems like a really good fit for your practice—but what happens if, once you start using it, you decide the software’s not right for your organization? What does the contract look like? If you are committing to a monthly charge in a year-long contract, how long are you obligated to pay that monthly fee? How much notice do you need to provide the vendor if you want to stop using their system? Is there a fee for terminating the contract? How do you get your data out?
While it’s not pleasant to consider the need to replace your EHR, it’s quite common, especially if the initial research and/or investment in a system are underestimated. Often, an organization will begin with a particular program but outgrow it as their needs change. A significant increase or decrease in staff; a change in specialty; or a shift in office processes such as changing payers can all create the need to switch systems. If you have to stop using the EHR, what does that look like? Ask the vendor for specifics about removing your client data (including electronic charts) and getting out of your contract.
As you go about communicating with EHR vendors, watch carefully for their responses and responsiveness. How quickly and thoroughly your questions are addressed can give you invaluable insight into how your needs will be handled as a customer. Let their initial communications with you set the stage for your comfort and trust level in their ongoing responsiveness to your staff and practice.
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