Update 3/23/2018: This post has been updated to add Solismed and NOSH and remove Practice Fusion, which is no longer free.
As a doctor you may not be able to completely avoid data entry. Or complicated payment structures.
But you can at least minimize the cost of going paperless by using free Electronic Medical Records software.
Today we’re going to compare every free EMR/EHR solution available that I could find. We’re going to look at their features and their Capterra user reviews (where possible).
Keep in mind that free software isn’t going to be the best choice for most practices. Most solutions either limit the number of physicians who can use it at the free level, or require a lot of developer time and talent to implement correctly. While free software is great, there are some trade-offs you’ll have to accept in return, and I’ll identify those for each product.
Let’s get started!
As an open source EMR platform, OpenMRS has been around for quite some time. It started in 2004, and counts among its users a number of government agencies and healthcare nonprofits and universities such as the Millennium Villages Project and the University of Virginia.
OpenMRS is an EMR platform, rather than an EMR. This means that you use OpenMRS to design your own customized medical records system. And you don’t need programming knowledge to do it.
What you get: 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 don’t need the insurance information that a U.S.-based practice might). The add-on modules and easily accessible API allow for even further customization.
Potential trade-offs: OpenMRS 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 the most familiar EHR in the U.S., according to Wikipedia. (Yes, it has a Wikipedia entry.) Developed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it handles over 8 million veterans’ medical records. Because more than 65% of all physicians trained in the U.S. rotate through the VA on clinical electives, many physicians have experience using it.
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 separately from the VA, of which OSEHRA is one of the most well-known.
What you get: VistA is, literally, the largest EMR implementation on the planet. It’s a battle-hardened, proven solution. 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 to address any issues and to make improvements.
Potential trade-offs: The biggest uncertainty around using VistA is that the VA recently announced they were going to replace it with Cerner. In addition, VistA is not a young program, so it’s not as user-friendly or easy to maintain as some of the more modern solutions out there.
Founded in 1999, FreeMED 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.
What you get: FreeMED has a long pedigree, and this, along with an active support community, contributes to its stability and support.
Potential trade-offs: That said, it looks like development has petered off. The last developer discussions ended in July 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.
OpenEMR is an open source, web-based EMR that is 2014 ONC Complete Ambulatory EHR certified, and Stage II certified for meaningful use. It offers e-prescribing, patient scheduling for multiple facilities, and patient appointment reminders via email and SMS.
What you get: With so many downloads and users, OpenEMR has a very active support community if you have any issues or questions about installation. In fact, the community has been referenced by just about every online review as “great” and “extremely helpful.”
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.
Potential trade-offs: The UI is a little dated.
One Touch EMR is a cloud-based EMR that includes electronic prescriptions, lab integration, and a drawing tool for annotations.
What you get: One Touch EMR is is ONC 2014 Edition compliant, is certified by Drummund Group, an ONC-ACB, certified for Meaningful Use I and II, and ICD-10 ready. There’s an iOS app in which you can do everything you can do on a desktop, and you can also add clinical photos. Dragon Medical dictation helps you document quickly, and the template library includes multiple specialties.
Capterra reviewers enjoy the familiar design of the workflow, which makes it easy to use.
Potential trade-offs: According to reviews, the learning curve can be steep.
NOSH is an open source EMR designed for outpatient clinics.
What you get: The interface is intuitive, fast, and modern. Nosh offers a patient portal, appointment scheduling with appointment reminders, and secure messaging. It offers lots of templates, electronic forms, electronic order entry, practice management features, graphing, patient-education document creation, alerts, and innovate tagging functions.
Potential trade-offs: Just like any open source solution, there’s going to be a lot of grunt work to get it up and running. However, Dr. Michael Chen, the developer, is also available to hold your hand at a cost (see “How do I start using it?” to learn more).
Solismed clinic management system is an open source EMR, and they’re currently working on adding MACRA reporting.
What you get: Solismed offers a patient portal with secure messaging, along with a ton of practice management capabilities including an appointment calendar and InterFAX, which allows you to send and receive faxes electronically.
Solismed stores contact information for patients, volunteers, suppliers, and physicians. It tracks refill requests, open orders, and lab results, and interfaces with numerous public health agencies and immunization registries.
You can track unpaid invoices and patient payments, and submit and process your insurance claims through integration with OfficeAlly (and other insurance clearing houses). It also tracks and helps you manage patient registration, supplies, and worker assignments at multiple workstations.
Potential trade-offs: Solismed’s design isn’t mobile responsive, so it doesn’t display consistently on tablets. However, the patient portal is mobile responsive.
If none of these struck your fancy, or you just want to know more…
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? Let me know in the comments.
And if you want to compare more options, check out our EMR directory.
To learn more about EMRs, check out these posts:
- Is Your EHR New Payment Model Ready? Questions to Ask Your Vendor
- How to Buy the Right Electronic Medical Records (EMR) Software
- 2018 EHR Stats That Might Surprise You: AI, Blockchain, CRM, and More
Looking for Electronic Medical Records software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Electronic Medical Records software solutions.