EMRs we’ll cover:
Free EMR software:
Open source EMR software:
Are you deciding whether free or open-source electronic medical records systems are the right choice for your small medical practice? Whether you’re implementing new software or replacing your current EMR, it can take weeks of research to choose the right one.
Luckily, we’re here to save you some time.
By the end of this article, you’ll know whether a free or open-source solution is best for your small medical practice, which products are getting great user reviews, and how to make your final selection.
Free EMR software
The lowdown: Free EMR companies have different ways of earning revenue, including selling ads that appear in their system, selling anonymized patient data, charging patients for access to some applications (e.g., the patient portal), and/or enticing practices to purchase premium expansions.
The target customer: Solo, small, and midsize practices.
Major pros: No upfront costs—need I say more?
Major cons: Free EMR software versions often exclude important features that are critical to a practice’s workflow. In addition, most of these systems cap the number of users and there can be integration limitations.
If you’ve decided on a free system, it’s just a matter of evaluating your options. To help you do this, we’ve profiled some of the most popular free EMRs out there.
Functionalities include: Voice recognition using Google Voice technology, patient chart management, claims generator, scheduling, and more.
While this product hasn’t been reviewed yet, the system boasts a lot of promising features. It’s a cloud-based solution that is HIPAA-compliant and ready for MACRA reporting.
In addition to offering voice assistant functionality, this product uses artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to make diagnosis and billing simple.
Functionalities include: E-prescribing, clinical decision support, built-in scheduler, drug list management, vaccination tracking, and more.
What users like: Reviewers describe this EMR as “interactive and seamless” and appreciate its “ease of use” and help with “migration from paper to paperless” record-keeping.
Functionalities include: Scheduling, appointment reminders, document management, lab orders, e-prescribing, integrated fax, and more.
What users like: Reviewers praise OneTouch EMR’s “responsive customer service,” “ease of use” and “quick customization”.
What users would like to see: Some reviewers say that the software has a high “learning curve”, but note that effective training can address potential difficulties.
Open source EMR software
The lowdown: Open source EMRs are like blueprints that let you build your own electronic records system. Practices can download the software source code and customize a solution to their exact specifications.
Depending on the EMR, you may have to get a licensing agreement from the original creator. While the source code is often free or low-cost, practices may end up having to hire software developers or consultants to help with their EMR’s design, implementation, and training.
The target customer: Providers with access to tech-savvy staff, contractors, or consultants.
Major pros: The open source community is widely known to be a collaborative group that constantly works on improving the software and sharing their results so that you can benefit from their additions.
Major cons: The technical know-how required to set up and maintain these systems can be intimidating for the average practice.
OpenEMR is considered the most popular open-source EMR by many, and with good reason: This ONC-ATCB certified system also includes practice management functionalities, such as scheduling and billing.
OpenMRS is another common open-source option. Its creators describe it as a “software platform and a reference application, which enables the design of a customized medical records system with no programming knowledge (although medical and systems analysis knowledge is required).”
You can think of OpenMRS as a toolkit for users with medical and systems analysis knowledge to build their own custom EMR without needing specialized experience with specific programming languages.
Why you should consider paid EMRs
I know what you may be thinking: “Why would I pay hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars for an EMR when I can easily get one for free?”
That’s a good point. Implementing an EMR can be tricky and time-consuming, in fact, some health IT experts actually recommend that first-time users adopt a free system so they can adapt to the technology without making a big investment.
Open source solutions, which aren’t necessarily free, are nevertheless appealing because they’re much more customizable than the average EMR. This lets you format the system to fit your exact needs, though the additional customization options can mean it’s more complex for users to set up.
But before fully committing to a free or open-source EMR, you should pause to consider if it’s the best choice for you.
Many practices find the benefits of paid software are worth every penny, and you’d be closing the door on hundreds of great vendors if you disregarded paid solutions right off the bat.
Cloud-based EMR systems generally mean a low upfront spend with monthly fees, but they provide much more technical support and user training than you’ll find with free systems. You’ll also find a lot more robust functionality and greater scalability with paid EMR systems, which will keep you from having to switch later on.
Picking your ideal EMR: 5 easy steps
First, you’ll need to ask yourself a series of questions to see which type of EMR would likely benefit you most. We’ve collected them all in the flowchart below:
Now, regardless of whether you’re going with a free, open-source or paid EMR, there are five steps you should always take before picking a vendor:
1. Determine which functionalities are important to you. You should separate the “must-have” functionalities from the “nice-to-haves” early on, so you don’t spend time considering solutions that don’t fit your needs.
For example, a free EMR may come with a patient portal, but charge a fee for the scheduling application.
2. Consider your staff’s workflow. It’s never too early to start thinking about staff buy-in for your new EMR. The implementation process will be much smoother if you take into consideration your office’s current workflow and focus on solutions that align with it.
For example, your staff might request extra customizations in your EMR’s charting templates if they’re worried about spending too much time entering data.
This is especially important as you decide between paid and open source solutions. Open-source options allow for more customization, but require more technical skills to set up. Paid EMRs are generally easier to use but offer fewer customizations.
3. Make a shortlist of five products. Use this list as a starting point for making a shortlist of free or open-source EMRs. If you’re struggling to come up with this list, you can reach out to our team of expert medical advisors by phone or chat to get free and personalized advice for narrowing down the hundreds of paid systems available.
4. View product demos, screenshots and reviews. Learn everything you can about the systems on your shortlist so you can ask vendors well-informed questions later on (e.g., “I read that some of your users would like more frequent product updates—how often do you currently release these updates?”).
You can see video demos, multiple screenshots and real user reviews in the product profiles on our site.
5. Meet with vendors and pick a product. Set up a phone or in-person meeting with the vendors on your shortlist to truly compare the pros and cons of each solution. Be sure you follow our tips for cutting through the vendor sales pitch.
Note: If you’ve decided on open-source software, there may not be a vendor to meet with. Instead, speak with whomever is helping you implement the system and set milestones for when it will be ready for use.
How we chose featured EMR products
In order to select the free and open-source EMR products listed here, we searched for systems that did two things:
- Offered a free, stand-alone version of the software that was not a trial version that required purchase after a limited amount of time, and
- Met our EMR market definition:
EMR software automates the clinical operations of healthcare providers. It allows medical professionals to create, store, update and share digital patient charts, histories, medications, test results and more.
We selected the most popular products by choosing the highest-ranked in Google search results during the week of November 11, 2019.