Providers: Do your homework when deciding on EHRs

For those of you with teenagers, you know that April is the time when your high school senior finally has to decide which college to attend this coming autumn. It's exciting, but daunting, because the truth is that no college is perfect.

Look at our household. Which college will my daughter choose?

  • The bucolic Ivy, reputed to be a bit of a grind?
  • The wonderful southern university that's um, a tad preppy?
  • The pretty university that seems lovely but only accepts 18 percent of out-of-staters, which seems limiting?

Which is why we're traveling up and down the coast, trying the colleges on for size, giving them test-drives. Walking through the campuses, eating in the cafeterias, sitting in on classes.

So it is with electronic health record systems. Each provider, like each student, needs to test-drive the options, because what is great for your referral source, colleague or Great Aunt Hilda may not work best for you.

Yet I keep hearing that providers aren't test-driving EHRs before buying one. Sure, they're checking the fundamentals, such as making sure that the EHR is certified for Meaningful Use and meets the requirements of one's specialty. Failing to do that would be like choosing a college without checking that it offers the major your child is interested in.

But some physicians are making their decisions simply because they didn't want to switch vendors, or because someone recommended a particular EHR. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but risky, since you may be disappointed.

"Piloting is very important. You must test the EHR to see how it will really work," Anwesh Dutta, a manager of PwC's Health Care Information Technology Advisory Practice, tells FierceEMR. For instance, providers need to check how their different electronic systems will interact, and if the way the data flows works for the provider. Don't take the vendor's word that the system is interoperable. Make sure that it is, she recommends.

And don't rely on a vendor's demo. "Beware of perfectly smooth demos. Whenever possible, insist on getting into your new system and mucking around with it before you really take the plunge," Wendy Whittington, Chief Medical Officer of Dallas-based Anthelio Healthcare Solutions tells FierceEMR. "What seems effortless to the nice, well-spoken person driving the demo might be a real pain in the tail."

This is how the bucolic Ivy ended up being cut from the college short list. It looked great on paper, but after our test-drive we learned that it wasn't a good fit for my daughter. It's beautiful, all right, but very rural, spread out and snowy. Not a good workflow.

Like a college education, an EHR is a huge investment of time, money and resources. So it's worth it to take a bit of time and try to find the best fit. - Marla