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Updated Jan 23, 2024

Choosing the Right EMR System: A Buyer’s Guide

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor

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Choosing the right medical software platform is no easy task. Whether you’re switching to a new electronic health record (EHR) system or implementing one for the first time, the selection can be daunting. The systems are complex and multifaceted, so it’s hard to test-drive one before making a choice. However, there are ways to whittle down the candidates until you’re left with the best EHR system and medical practice management software (PMS) for your healthcare organization.

What is an EHR system?

An EHR system is a software platform that stores your patients’ personal and medical data while facilitating prescriptions, lab orders and telehealth appointments. EHR systems often come with a PMS through which you can streamline patients’ access to their data. The result is better recordkeeping for your practice and a higher-quality experience for your patients.

Did You Know?Did you know

Value-based care is an increasingly popular healthcare business model. It prioritizes payment based on quality of care versus quantity of patients seen.

Electronic health records (EHRs) vs. electronic medical records (EMRs)

There is a difference between EMRs and EHRs. EMRs are essentially digitized paper charts for a single practice, and electronic health record (EHR) systems are more comprehensive. For one, EHRs not only replace paper charts, but also streamline critical functions like billing, ordering prescriptions and tests, managing your practice, and communicating with your patients. 

Editor’s note: Looking for an electronic health records system for your medical practice? If you’re looking for information to help you choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to receive information from a variety of vendors for free.

The advantage of an EHR system is that everything appears in one place – a patient’s entire medical history, the logistical aspects of running your practice and more. Even better, EHR systems allow providers at all points of care to communicate with one another electronically. For example, if a patient visits the hospital on Saturday, their general practitioner will know all about it on Monday. 

Physicians and staff can use an EHR system to deliver more effective treatment and create comprehensive health records that circulate to every point of care. However, these days, members of the industry often use the terms EMR and EHR interchangeably, as virtually every major platform offers EHR-like functionality.

FYIDid you know

Although EMR and EHR are different, you’ll see the terms used interchangeably to refer to digital medical records software that can communicate with other points of care.

How to choose the right EHR system

Take the below steps to research EHR systems and decide which platform best fits your practice.

1. Broadly consider your needs and key distinctions.

Maybe you’re seeking an EHR system that’s full of dermatology codes to streamline your specialty billing. Those kinds of needs are important to consider during your search for the right EHR platform. Some systems will offer solutions tailored to dermatologists (and plenty of other specialties), whereas others are more generalized. Chances are you’ll benefit more from specialized than generalized solutions.

Additionally, one EHR system may suit practices of one size better than another vendor’s system. That makes size a key distinction to keep in mind as you start your research. Evaluate this distinction alongside your budget and internal workflows as you look at potential vendors.

EHRs don’t just impact physicians, but every facet of the practice. This is especially true when a practice management system or revenue cycle management integrates with the system. Everyone in the practice should be familiar with the implementation goals and long-term strategy.

2. Determine the exact features you want.

Are you most in need of patient charting technology, or is a patient scheduling tool just as important? List all the features you’d like your EHR system to include, then rank them by importance. As you compare potential platforms, look to see which platforms provide the highest-quality tools in the areas you’ve prioritized.

3. Look at key information sources about your potential EHR providers.

Your EHR provider’s website may include a pricing page detailing several pricing packages and the features they include. These pages are wellsprings of important information about what you’ll get when you choose that vendor and at what prices. 

Online customer reviews on Trustpilot and the Better Business Bureau’s website also give you valuable information. So do the real-life experiences of other medical professionals you know who have used the platforms you’re considering. Take note of everything you learn as you review all this customer feedback, and consider it while moving forward. 

4. Review integrations, interoperability and compliance features.

Confirm that any EHR systems you’re considering fully connect to your other key software platforms to ensure universal data across your practice. Just as importantly, verify that any potential vendors include features for sharing patient data with third parties in HIPAA-compliant ways. These features fall under the umbrella of interoperability, and they streamline the involvement of specialists, pharmacies and other entities in your patients’ care.

Speaking of HIPAA: When comparing potential vendors, look for information that clearly explains how the platform commits to complying with HIPAA and other regulations. Features such as audit trails should be available to ensure data safety and privacy.

5. Pursue free trials and product demos.

Any time you’re looking to implement new software, a free trial is the single best asset for making an informed decision. You’ll typically get seven to 30 days to use the platform, giving you a no-commitment opportunity to see whether it works well for your practice. 

When free trials aren’t available, guided product demos are your next best bet. A company representative will walk you through the platform’s key features and show you them in action. This is a step up from simply seeing the features listed in a comparison table.

6. Make your decision.

At this point, you have all the information you need. Compare each platform’s user commentary, prices and features to sort your potential options from best to worst. Sign up for the best platform, and start the implementation process.

Factors to consider when choosing an EHR system

While you’re required by the HIPAA to ensure patient data in any EHR system is secure, there are many other considerations when choosing an EHR system. Here are a few:

1. Cost 

The price of an EHR system depends on the features you choose, the vendor you select and how many providers are in your practice. When requesting an estimate, find out the initial licensing or activation costs and how much each additional component (such as a practice management system) will add to the price. Typically, for smaller practices, the price is based on a monthly subscription fee multiplied by the number of providers using the system. 

For our recommendations, subscription costs range from $150 to $1,100 per provider per month after activation or licensing costs. Those fees may cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Pricing fluctuates based on the specifics of each practice and will be determined in consultation with the vendor. 

2. Ease of use 

If a system isn’t intuitive, it can grind your workflow to a halt as your staff struggles to accomplish routine tasks. Remember, you will use this system every day, so you don’t want one that will take you away from your patients or add hours to your daily workload. Ease of use doesn’t end at the provider; office staff and billing managers also need to understand how to use the system.

TipTip

Remember that your medical software will also be used for medical billing and coding. Ensure your medical billers have a chance to test the software before you buy.

3. Cloud-based hosting 

Most major EHR vendors offer a cloud-hosted option, meaning there are no servers or hardware to maintain in your office besides your own computers. Cloud-hosted systems provide a relatively cheap way to outsource the costs of IT maintenance and technical support to the vendor. We recommend a cloud-based option unless you have a specific reason to host servers on-site.

4. Implementation and training 

The implementation of an EHR system can take anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months, so it’s important to know your vendor’s plan for getting your system up and running. In addition, some vendors offer physician and staff training to make sure everyone in your practice is up to speed with the new software. Occasionally, a vendor will offer one-on-one support at no extra cost for a limited time after the system is implemented. 

5. Integration

Some useful features of EHRs include e-prescribing and electronically ordering laboratory tests and results. However, not every lab, hospital and pharmacy will be configured to interface properly with every EHR system. To ensure interoperability, which is a primary focus of the government’s Meaningful Use Stage 3 guidelines, talk to vendors about which interfaces they employ and whether or not those are compatible with the surrounding facilities in your area. Many vendors are willing to build out additional integrations upon request, so find out if that is possible and if it would be included in your subscription costs.

6. Customer service 

Acclimating to a new EHR system is no small task, so make sure the vendor will be there to support you along the way. If its customer service is difficult to reach or not particularly eager to answer questions before you buy, the service might not be helpful when you’re trying to figure out your new system later. A good working relationship with the vendor you choose is key to a successful transition to a new EHR system. 

7. ONC EHR certification

Regulations surrounding medical software continue to evolve, but a system should meet baseline requirements set out by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). These certifications are also relevant for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement payments and whether a practice is eligible for any incentive payments or subject to any penalties based on their use of medical software.

Types of EHR systems

There are four main types of EHR systems.

  1. Physician-hosted: If your EHR system is physician-hosted, then all your medical data is stored on servers within your facility. In this case, you’re responsible for buying all data storage hardware. You’ll also need to implement information security measures that keep your practice HIPAA-compliant. Although on-site hosting can make your EHR system faster, implementing it can be expensive. It’s best left to hospital-sized practices.
  2. Remotely hosted or dedicated remote: The servers for a remotely hosted EHR system are based outside of your practice. This arrangement relieves your practices of the issue of data storage, but you do remain responsible for data security. In other words, it only partially relieves your IT burden. That said, remotely hosted options are beneficial for smaller practices unable to afford physician-hosted solutions.
  3. Subsidized remote: When your practice uses a subsidized remote EHR, it pays another medical practice for access to its EHR. For example, if a nearby hospital provides EHR access to your practice, then you’re working with a subsidized remote system. In this arrangement, your EHR system management costs are minimal, but data ownership issues can arise.
  4. Cloud-based: Perhaps the most popular type of EHR system, cloud-based EHRs don’t require on-site servers. Instead, your cloud-based EHR vendor will store all your EHR data in the cloud. This cloud access results in enhanced data security, in part because your practice’s data is available only through the EHR vendor’s HIPAA-compliant platforms. It also relieves your practice of virtually all healthcare IT concerns.
Did You Know?Did you know

Cloud-based medical software is a popular choice because it alleviates the need for an IT professional on staff to manage on-premises servers. Additionally, the upfront cost tends to be lower.

Benefits of EHR systems

These are some reasons EHR systems are increasingly common in medical practices:

  • Easier note-taking: EHR systems often include medical speech-to-text tools that streamline the note-taking process. With these tools, you can prioritize hands-on patient care and let the EHR translate your conversations into notes.
  • Easier chart and notes access: With EHR systems, your days of combing through overstuffed file cabinets are over. Instead, you can quickly access a digital interface that streamlines searching for and pulling up charts and notes. With this improved access comes better patient care. Medical software stores patient records in compliance with HIPAA regulations.
  • Increased awareness of dangerous drug interactions: Most EHR systems will alert you if you prescribe medications that could interact dangerously with one another. This proactive safety feature isn’t possible with non-computerized charting and note-taking methods.
  • Better communication with other practitioners: Whether inside or outside of your practice, EHR systems’ interoperability ensures the swift delivery of patient information from one party to another. This ensures that all medical professionals who need to care for your patient can do so without any issues.
Key TakeawayKey takeaway

EHR systems make filling out patient medical charts, sharing medical information securely, prescribing medications and communicating with other practitioners much easier.

The best EHR and EMR systems

All of the below vendors, which are among our picks for the best medical software, are worth considering as you choose the right platform. 

  • CareCloud: After you log in to CareCloud, it’ll take just one click to access your key EHR tools. Additionally, you’ll move through CareCloud’s key features in an order that resembles the traditional front-office registration and checkout processes. This makes CareCloud highly user-friendly. Read our CareCloud medical software review to learn what else makes this platform a top-quality pick.
  • DrChrono: This vendor offers e-prescribing, patient charts and appointment scheduling at competitively low prices. It’s also a user-friendly option, especially when you’re using the DrChrono iOS app. To learn more about this vendor, check out our DrChrono medical software review.
  • AdvancedMD: You’ll have AdvancedMD’s support and assistance with EHR implementation during most of the process, which isn’t always true of other vendors. You can also sign up for some EHR features and exclude others via AdvancedMD’s a la carte offerings, thereby cutting your practice’s medical software expenses. Learn more via our AdvancedMD medical software review.
  • athenahealth: The reporting module within athenahealth offers an unparalleled breadth of customization filters. You can also use athenahealth to compare your practice’s financial performance metrics to those of roughly 150,000 other practices. Discover how powerful this EHR system is for reporting via our athenahealth medical software review.
  • Tebra: When you log in to your Tebra account, you’ll see a dashboard that resembles a social media feed. This design is intentional, and it reflects Tebra’s commitment to a simple user experience. Tebra’s simplicity extends to its lab integrations, which you should have no trouble navigating. Learn more via our Tebra medical software review.

Ready, set, choose

Now that you know how to find the right EHR system for your business, you’re ready to digitize your practice. Your communications both within and outside your practice will improve, plus your prescribing process will be quicker and safer. And that’s just the start – EHR can bring your practice into the present in all kinds of ways. More than that, it’s the future of the medical industry, and nothing is stopping you from beginning your implementation journey today.

Max Freedman contributed to this article.

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor
Adam Uzialko, senior editor of Business News Daily, is not just a professional writer and editor — he’s also an entrepreneur who knows firsthand what it’s like building a business from scratch. His experience as co-founder and managing editor of a digital marketing company imbues his work at Business News Daily with a perspective grounded in the realities of running a small business. Since 2015, Adam has reviewed hundreds of small business products and services, including contact center solutions, email marketing software and text message marketing software. Adam uses the products, interviews users and talks directly to the companies that make the products and services he covers. He specializes in digital marketing topics, with a focus on content marketing, editorial strategy and managing a team.
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