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Buyer's Guide

by Gaby Loria,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: March 25, 2017

Electronic health record (EHR) software—also often referred to as electronic medical record (EMR) software—addresses many of the same concerns for nephrologists as it does for practitioners in any medical specialty. Broadly speaking, this software will automate repetitive tasks, streamline documentation, improve access to information, enable more accurate and profitable coding and foster efficiency.

But nephrologists have some unique needs they’ll want their software to address, as well. We’ve created this guide to help you evaluate software to find an ideal fit for your practice.

Common Features of Nephrology Software
Benefits of Nephrology Software
Important Considerations

Common Features of Nephrology Software

The following features are those that nephrologists commonly cite as most helpful in medical software:

Lab integration Receiving, reviewing and sharing lab results is critical for nephrologists. Some EHR systems integrate with laboratories and/or support alerts for abnormal lab values.
Nephrology CPT & ICD coding Your software solution should be able to reference current CPT and ICD code sets for nephrology. Many systems allow you to identify “favorite” codes that you use frequently so they can be called up quickly, and some even suggest codes automatically.
Nephrology-specific templates Many software solutions will offer templates specific to the nephrology specialty, such as note templates for CKD, Dysuria, Flank Pain, Hematuria, Renal Failures and others. These templates are designed to make documenting the types of visits you conduct most frequently more efficient.
Sophisticated scheduling Nephrology practices tend to need the ability to access and create appointments based on their own office calendar as well as dialysis center calendars. Many scheduling systems offer this level of visibility.
Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) Some EHR software offers a PACS feature, which will manage the storage, retrieval, distribution and presentation of MRIs, CTs and other patient images.

Not all nephrology EHR software will include all of these features, and some features may be supported to varying degrees in various products. Further, you may place higher importance on some features than others. Be sure to identify the features that are most critical to your practice’s operations, and evaluate software that supports them.

Benefits of Nephrology Software

Implementing a new EMR with nephrology-specific features can help your practice reap a great deal of benefits, such as:

  • Improved documentation: When evaluating kidney-related conditions, it’s key to keep detailed notes of every patient counter so you can track progress over time. Note templates ensure you’re capture all the necessary information in a clear and comprehensive way.
  • Greater access to records: Digitizing medical records makes them easier to share through tech-enabled processes and platforms, such as direct messaging or patient portals. This eliminates the need to spend time locating paper files, making copies and sending them to patients or referring physicians.
  • Faster workflows: Most EMRs come with time-saving features, such as e-prescribing and clinical decision support tools. The first of these allows you to generate and send a prescription order (e.g., dialysis medication) directly to a patient’s pharmacy so you don’t need to rely on phone calls and faxes. Clinical decision support tools may include computerized alerts/reminders, clinical guidelines and patient data reports that can make it easier to treat and diagnose patients.

Important Considerations

Aside from the functionality mentioned above, there are a few other things to keep in mind as you evaluate software solutions.

What applications do you need? Do you only need an EHR? Or will you need applications for medical billing and/or appointment scheduling, as well? If you’re only looking for a single application, that application will be known as a “standalone” or “best-of-breed” solution. If you’re looking for one system that includes multiple applications (e.g., EHR, billing and scheduling all in one), that is what’s known as an “integrated suite.”

Most nephrologists we talk to are seeking an integrated suite, with one major exception: if you currently outsource billing and don’t plan to bring that function back in house, you probably won’t need a billing application. However, you may still want to evaluate integrated EHR and scheduling offerings.

What type of deployment do you prefer? “Deployment” refers to where the software is “hosted,” meaning where it lives. If the software is installed on your own office’s servers, it is an “on-premise” system. Alternatively, the software can be hosted online (in the cloud), meaning it can be accessed via an Internet browser on any device with an Internet connection. This type of deployment is known as “Web-based” or “cloud-based”—it’s also synonymous with software-as-a-service (SaaS). (To learn more about Web-based systems, check out our Web-based EMR buyer’s guide.)

On-premise systems usually entail larger upfront costs in the form of software licenses and hardware. Web-based systems, on the other hand, usually have a lower monthly subscription fee instead of a single, upfront license fee. However, the costs of the systems tend to diverge over the life of the software—check out our Total Cost of Ownership calculator to see how this often works.

Practices that prefer on-premise systems typically want the control of running the software on-site through an internal IT team. Practices that prefer Web-based systems generally like the flexibility of being able to access the software through any Internet connection, as well as the ease of automatic upgrades, which are typically “pushed” out to users without requiring downtime for installation. Some practices have no preference, and many vendors offer multiple modes of deployment.

Will you require mobile support? If you or users in your practice will want to be able to access your nephrology EMR software via a smartphone or tablet, you’ll want to make sure the vendor you select offers mobile support. This may be especially useful for nephrologists conducting dialysis rounds who wish to access charts on the go.

Keep in mind that while Web-based systems typically offer the ability to access the software through any Internet browser, you’ll still want to confirm that the vendor offers a “native” mobile app—that is, an interface designed specifically for use on a smaller screen, such as a tablet or smartphone. Take a look at our tablet EMR guide for more information on available tablet options.

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