How To Select an EHR for Your Independent Practice
If you are an independent or small practice owner or admin who is in charge of selecting an electronic health record (EHR) system, you want to ensure you are getting the right software for your budget and needs.
However, it’s important to understand how to go about EHR selection. If you fail to adequately plan, you risk paying too much money for features you don’t need, or on the flipside, not getting the right features which might stifle the growth of your practice. Finding the right software ensures you get the largest return on investment for your independent practice.
To help you pick the right EHR, we'll cover helpful steps inspired by Gartner research  and an interview with New York-based periodontist Dr. Richard Nejat.
Before you begin, pinpoint your purchase drivers
According to Gartner, 73.9% of physicians were employed by a hospital or health system or other corporate entity by the end of 2021 .
One of the reasons these independent practitioners might be moving back toward a larger healthcare organization is the burden of procuring and maintaining an EHR, particularly if the practice is unsatisfied with their purchase decision which can result in wasted money and a lot of other frustrations.
But there is a way to make sure that your independent practice is not wasting money on unneeded EHR features or maintaining a bulky EHR that your staff doesn’t like to use. Focusing on pain points that your practice is experiencing in its everyday routine will help you to hone in on what you need an EHR system to help you streamline and automate.
First-time buyers might be looking at things such as affordability or basic functionality, like paperless charts, whereas a more established independent practice might have outgrown their EHR and are looking to upgrade so that their software stack can work seamlessly between different office buildings.
Dr. Nejat’s old EHR didn’t offer any paperless features, which was making it difficult to grow his practice. In order to continue to grow, he needed to go to find a new solution:
Now that you have a handle on why you’re looking for an EHR in the first place, it’s time to begin the software selection process.
Step #1: Put together a team of stakeholders to evaluate the software options
You might understand what you need from a piece of software from the clinical side of things, but your office manager will know what functionality you need when it comes to billing or scheduling. Just like your IT team will know what your practice is physically capable of achieving, given your resources.
Dr. Nejat understood the importance of bringing in different perspectives when they began their search for a new EHR:
Choosing software shouldn’t necessarily be a fast process because, ideally, you want to find the perfect fit for your practice the first time around. Switching systems can be costly due to cancellation fees and the data transfer headaches that it can cause.
Look at the important parts of your practice that the electronic health record system will serve—billing, data management, paperless charts, etc.—and then find key stakeholders on your staff that can help inform what your current system is lacking and what holes you need your new system to fix.
Step #2: Build a feature and functionality shortlist
Dr. Nejat and his team of stakeholders came up with a checklist of key features and functionalities that were mandatory during their search which made narrowing down a list of potential vendors significantly easier:
Once you’ve assembled your team, you’ll want to break down your practice’s needs in a few different ways:
Training and support
The most important aspect of choosing a new piece of software is understanding what you need it to accomplish for your practice. Creating a shortlist should be you and your team’s focus until you get your software options narrowed down.
When developing your shortlist, make sure to separate your needs from your wants. You should have a list of required features first and foremost while also keeping a list of nice-to-have features that can be the deciding factor between two vendors that both meet your requirements.
Once you have your shortlist narrowed down, stick to it. Try not to deviate from your required features once you start doing more research into what different software vendors are offering.
Step #3: Read reviews, and get recommendations from colleagues
Once you have your shortlist and have narrowed down the list of potential vendors that work for what your practice needs, it’s time to talk to colleagues, read reviews, look at product comparisons, and speak to people who understand the market thoroughly.
You can do as much individual research as you want, but one of the best ways to determine if an EHR software vendor is right for your practice is to see how a system worked for someone else in your field.
Dr. Nejat had some advice for practices looking to switch to new software:
If you’re relying solely on vendor websites, you might only see the good—or what they want you to see. You might miss out on some of the nuances that only become apparent once you’ve had hands-on experience with the software. The last thing you want is to choose something because it looks pretty but might not be able to help you grow your practice because it doesn’t actually do what you need it to do.
Software Advice lets you read what other small practices like you think about the software they use by breaking the software down into four categories:
Ease of use
Value for money
You can also compare vendors side-by-side to see how they stack up against each other, or find common alternatives that share similar features.
Step #4: Speak to vendors once you have all the pieces in place
You’ve gotten your panel of stakeholders together, narrowed down your must-have features into a shortlist, and have gotten recommendations and looked at reviews—now it’s finally time to talk to the vendors who meet your requirements.
When approaching a vendor, you want to ask for at least two different demos:
During your demos, you want to see firsthand how the software will support your important practice processes. For example, you want to see how you can upload patient charts, intake forms, how billing works, etc.
For the first demo, include key stakeholders who will be using the software daily to see if it fits your needs.
Any subsequent demos should be used to determine more technical things. If you have an IT representative, they should take a look to see if there will be any compatibility issues, such as data storage, server hosting, downtime times, etc.
It’s important to remember that, ideally, you’re purchasing software as a long term investment, so you should be thinking about the software vendor as a partnership or relationship.
Dr. Nejat compares it to a marriage:
He’s not wrong. You want a software partner who is invested in seeing your practice succeed. If you view it solely as transactional, you’re losing out.
Software partners will work with your business every step of the way to make sure the software they provide will help your business thrive. When it comes to finding a software partner, you’re going to want to focus on two things:
Make sure the software provider’s business goals align with yours
Excellent customer service and support
Making the right decision takes time and effort but is ultimately worth it
Small and independent healthcare organizations that take upgrading or switching EHRs seriously by going through each step outlined in this article will see better long term results that will lead to greater growth.