Medical Software

Comparing EMR Software: 9 Must-Have Features

Published by in EMR


EMR is happening, like it or not.

Pushed by threat of penalties, and pulled by incentives, more and more medical practices are jumping on board the EMR express. But which software suite should you use?

The stakes are high. If clinicians don’t step up and demand an active role in choosing EMR software, administrators and executives will choose based on what savvy salespeople tell them will help them track better and bill for more. Or based on regulations such as meaningful use. No one knows what will make your life easier like you do, so don’t get intimidated because you don’t know a lot about software.

Helping you make good software choices is kind of our thing at Capterra, so I’ve narrowed down the nine factors you should consider when choosing EMR software.

First are the must-haves. Most, if not all software will offer HIPAA compliance. If you find one that doesn’t, stay away. They’ll all also offer some kind of appointment management. However the usefulness and features will vary widely.

So, here are the nine features which not every software will have, and how to evaluate them.

1. Billing

You gotta get paid, right? A good EMR software will help you do just that. And they’ll make it as fast, painless, and integrated as possible. Things you’ll want to look for include:

  • How does the software make it easier to get information from charts onto bills?
  • How easy does the software make it to send bills?
  • Does the software either take payments or integrate easily with software that takes payments?
  • Does the software integrate with a variety of payments software?

For making bill creation easier, a program might autofill a bill with services from charts. Or it might allow you to view the bill and chart side-by-side.

2. Charting

In the medical world, charts are everything. And Physician Edwin Leap stresses that EMR software that doesn’t encourage charting in real-time leads to burnout, stress, and inaccurate, incomplete charts. Because if charts aren’t prepared in the moment, “Doctors stay after their shifts, or chart from home, or come in on their days off in order to complete their documentation. Needless to say, this is unlikely to create the best possible chart. Not only is this true, but I have also watched as nurses sat for one to two hours after their busy ED shifts, catching up on the ever-increasing documentation requirements in their EMR systems.”

Leap suggests dictation, and some EMR software offers voice recognition for just that purpose. This can do more than just save doctors time. A Northwestern University study indicated that when physicians spend too much time with patients looking at computer screens, they tend to miss non-verbal cues which can reveal significant and important information about patient health.

Beyond dictation, many EMR software products offer customizable templates so your charts will feature the fields you need, and none you don’t, to save time and training.

You’ll also want charts that track vital signs over multiple encounters. Even better is a chart that automatically shows percent changes, so you can know at a glance that your patient’s blood pressure is 12% lower than three months ago.

The ability to chart on a tablet is essential if you need to chart away from a computer. Otherwise, you’ll have to input the information manually later. Programmable keyboard shortcuts save charting time, as do flowsheets.

The gold standard in charting utilizes machine learning. Instead of having to customize a template with guesses about the information you’ll need to take down, some software will learn the information you record, the order in which you record it, which information generally goes with other information, in order to make your forms more and more useful and streamlined as you go on.

3. Workflow

Every medical practice has a set of procedures. Software which knows the order of operations and helps guide users through them can save time for current users and training time for new ones. Some EMR software products offer customizable workflows to keep everyone on track. For example you can automate reminder emails for appointments and set reminders for phone calls to patients and sending test results.

4. E-Prescribing

Your EMR software should offer e-prescribing. Of course you want to be able to print and transmit prescriptions electronically. But you also want immediate and automatic notifications of potential drug allergies and interactions.

Questions to ask include

  • Which database/s does your software utilize to find these interactions?
  • Does the software offer two-way communication with pharmacies?
  • What percentage of pharmacies are available to patients via the software?
  • How does the system integrate with Medicare Part D?
  • Does the system offer easily printed medication handouts?

5. E/M Coding

It’s helpful to have software that helps you comply with evaluation and management documentation standards. These standards help ensure that healthcare payers have the information they require to pay out. The information your EMR might record to help comply includes:

  • Complete and legible medical records
  • Reason for the encounter and relevant history
  • Physical exam findings
  • Prior diagnostic test results
  • Assessment, clinical impression, or diagnosis
  • Medical plan of care
  • Date and legible identity of the observer
  • Appropriate health risk factors
  • Patient’s progress, response to and changes in treatment, and revision of diagnosis
  • Diagnosis and treatment codes

6. Lab Integration

Like with e-prescribing, the ability to seamlessly electronically monitor delivery, analysis, degree of certainty, and results of samples and integrate that information with charts may be incredibly useful, depending on how lab-dependent your practice is.

Things to look for include:

  • Which lab/s the software integrates with
  • Two-way communication with labs
  • Easy access to explanatory information and research on lab results

7. Meaningful Use Certification

Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs offer cash money to peeps who can prove they’re doing the “meaningful use” of certified EHR technology. If you work with Medicare and Medicaid patients, you want to get that skrilla. And to do that, you need a certified EHR software.

8. Patient Portal

You know what’s better than serving patients? Patients serving themselves. With a patient portal, they can! A good patient portal will give users access to:

  • Recent doctor visits
  • Discharge summaries
  • Medications
  • Immunizations
  • Allergies
  • Lab results
  • Forms for download
  • Educational materials

Patient portal functionality may include:

  • Secure e-mail exchange with providers
  • Prescription refill request form
  • Appointment scheduling
  • Benefits and coverage checks
  • Contact information update form
  • Payments

9. Cloud Hosting

While some people prefer on-premise software, the trend is definitely toward cloud hosting. “Accessibility to records from any location has untethered us from the office,” Lloyd Zucker, MD, Chief of Neurosurgery at Delray Medical Center told Becker’s Spine Review about the cloud-based EMR software his office uses.

Advances in computing power, virtualization, and high-speed connectivity make cloud hosting feasible. Encryption makes it secure.

Cloud software is easier and cheaper to implement, maintain, and update. And it makes it easier to have access to information everywhere.

Going forward

Development in EMR software has slowed, according to Teresa Wang, a strategy manager at Rock Health and one of the authors of its report on 2014 digital health funding. “The space is so crowded, there has to be a shakeout,” she said. This is actually good news for consumers.

There’s no longer the fear that a new startup or competitor will roll out and make you wish you’d chosen a different provider.

The biggest area for growth in EMR tech is telemedicine. To help future-proof your EMR software, consider a company that’s taking strides in helping providers offer medical services remotely.


Choosing EMR software will have a huge impact on your day-to-day. So it’s vital that you have a say in the decision. I’ve outlined these nine features as a starting point for evaluating the different options out there. Do you agree these are the features to focus on? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!

Looking for Electronic Medical Records software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Electronic Medical Records software solutions.

About the Author

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is a former Capterra analyst.



Comment by Katty on

Thanks for sharing the really informative post. EMR software is playing really important role as these software deals with the creation, association, and recovery of electronic patient records. Apart from this, implementing an EMR has been known to increase medical practice’s productivity, the quality of care given to patients, job satisfaction, and customer satisfaction.


Comment by Clinical Decision Support Systems on

Thanks for the great information! These features are necessary for choosing best EMR software. I ‘d like to add few more here like: Customization and Easy-to-Use Navigation, advanced security, Customized Reporting, Electronic Prescriptions and Automatic Transription.

Pingback by How To Choose An EHR For Your Home Health Or Hospice Agency | Data Soft Logic on

[…] Choosing your software will have a big impact on your day-to-day operations so making a well-informed choice is important to your agency and is a decision that you should make after a thorough process. For other features that you might want to consider check out Capterra’s full list here. […]


Comment by Data Soft Logic on

Great article Cathy. Really good insight into what a consumer should be looking for when they are making a smart software decision.

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