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iPhones, iPads and iMacs are showing up in more and more hospitals and physician practices across the country. This isn’t surprising given that a 2011 Manhattan Institute survey found 75 percent of U.S. physicians owned one or more Apple devices. We also speak with more and more doctors who want to run medical billing software or electronic medical records (EMRs)—also often called electronic health records (EHRs)—on Macs.
But, while demand is there, the medical software industry has been somewhat slow to respond with Apple medical software designed specifically for Apple computers. However, with the increasing number of web-based solutions available—which are typically operating-system-agnostic—the number of options for Apple users are growing.
A Mac-native product is one engineered to operate optimally on the Mac operating system, and designed with the user’s experience in mind. For that reason, a native solution is likely to take full advantage of the Mac infrastructure and user interface. The look and feel will be consistent with the desktop or mobile device you’re used to using.
Despite the growing use of Apple devices in medical practices, there are still few medical software products that run natively on Mac OS X. So while Mac-native software may operate smoothly and sleekly on your Apple device, your software options will be limited by virtue of there being so few vendors to choose from. But even if you don’t find a native practice management system or EMR for Mac that meets your needs, you’ll likely find some great options in the robust Web-based space.
Web-based EMRs and online medical billing systems are a great long-term investment for doctors using Macs. Web-based software, also known as Software as a Service (SaaS) or cloud computing, is accessed online through a web browser, rather than being locally installed and hosted on a practice’s servers as with on-premise systems. That means web-based EMRs can be accessed through Safari or any other web browser you run on your Mac.
Web-based systems offer a number of advantages over traditional on-premise systems. The upfront cost is typically lower, because you won’t be investing in hardware and servers. Data is hosted in the cloud rather than on your office’s servers. Most importantly, the EMR can be accessed from any device with an Internet connection—be that an iMac, an iPad or an iPhone.
Unlike their on-premise counterparts, web-based software vendors won't have to support two versions of their software (i.e. one for Windows and one for Mac) long-term. And because of their cross-platform compatibility, web-based vendors can market to a bigger audience. For that reason, we might argue they have greater financial and strategic viability. And one of the biggest advantages for Apple users is that the web-based market is bigger than the Mac-native market, which means practices have more Web-based options when looking for an EHR for Mac that fits their practice’s size, type, budget and functional requirements.
It should be noted that solutions can be both Mac-native and web-based, as in the case of HealthFusion’s MediTouch and drchrono’s Apple EMR, both of which are web-based solutions that were designed to run natively on the iPad.
One decision you’ll face in purchasing medical software is whether to implement a stand-alone system—in other words, one that provides only a single application (such as EMR, billing or scheduling)—or an integrated suite that includes multiple applications.
Many practices choose to implement an integrated suite. However, there a few circumstances under which a stand-alone system might be right for you:
Regardless of whether you choose native Mac EMR software or a web-based system, there are some common considerations to keep in mind.
Mobile Support: One thing to remember is that just because an EMR or medical billing program runs on your iMac, that doesn’t guarantee it will run optimally on your iPad or iPhone. For example, web-based systems can be accessed through the Internet browser of any device, but if the software doesn’t include mobile support, what you’ll be looking at is the desktop version of the software, which could get unwieldy on a small screen. Although most Mac-native and web-based systems offer mobile support, you should confirm with each vendor you evaluate if you plan to use your iPad or iPhone to access your system. You can also check out our guide for iPad EHRs to evaluate your options.
ONC-ATCB Certification: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 included a component known as the HITECH Act—the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health. HITECH includes $19 billion in funds to incentivize medical practices to implement electronic health records. Providers who meet certain criteria for “meaningful use” may be eligible to receive up to $44,000 in the form of increased Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. Physicians who treat Medicare or Medicaid patients but do not qualify for certain “meaningful use” criteria by 2015 will be penalized in the form of decreased Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
To qualify for meaningful use, practices must be using a “certified” EHR system. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), is responsible for the meaningful use initiative and has selected six bodies who can certify EHR software. These bodies are known as ONC-Authorized Testing and Certification Bodies (ONC-ATCBs). Practices participating in the meaningful use program will want to be sure the Mac EHR they select is certified by one of these six bodies.
Security: Data security is a concern we hear regularly from practices we talk to. HIPAA requirements and patient privacy are top priorities for practices, so buyers want to ensure the EMRs they purchase can provide the appropriate security. EMR vendors are fully aware of this important concern, and proper data encryption technology exists for both web-based and on-premise, Mac-native systems. ONC-ATCB-certified systems will all meet standard security criteria defined by the ONC.
Size and Practice Type: As you explore which Apple EHR or practice management software is right for you, you’ll want to make sure the software can support a practice of your size. Additionally, you’ll want software that is appropriate for your practice’s specialty focus. Some vendors build software flexible enough for almost any specialty or size of practice to use, while others may cater to the needs of specific specialties or practice sizes.