Whether it’s your first system or a replacement, when your practice is ready to purchase an electronic health record (EHR) system, you’ll want to be sure you’ve thoroughly vetted the vendor before you sign that contract. After all, you’re not just buying software; you’re entering a long-term business relationship.
If you’re inexperienced with making major purchase decisions for your practice, such as business software or new technology systems, then you may be unsure about what you should ask. So here’s a list of 25 questions you should ask every potential vendor finalist before you choose one and make the purchase:
- Is your product certified by an authorized certification body?
- How will you support our efforts to demonstrate that we are meaningfully using the EHR system per the federal government’s rules?
- Do you guarantee that you will update your product in order to meet any new or evolving meaningful use requirements?
- How will you support our efforts to transition to the new ICD-10 billing code set?
- Is this EHR system appropriate for our practice? How does it work when compared to the way our healthcare providers prefer to work? (Note: You’ll want to perform a careful workflow analysis and needs assessment before you ask these questions and before you proceed to schedule any vendor demos. You’re looking for a system that adapts to your providers, not the other way around. To find it, first you need a clear understanding of how your providers work and what you’re hoping to achieve with your new EHR.)
- How well does the product work for our medical specialty?
- How well does your product integrate with our existing practice management system (PMS)? Can you show us?
- How well does your product integrate with our key clinical partners’ EHRs, including the hospital(s) and our biggest referrers? Can you show us?
- How often do you publish software updates? How do you inform your customers about them? Are the updates free to your clients or do you charge extra?
- How you handle technical support? What do we do if we find that something isn’t working properly? How quickly will you respond and in what way? Will we get routed to an outsourced call center, or will we be assigned a “go-to person” who will work with us when we need someone to do so? Do you simply answer our questions so we can troubleshoot the problem ourselves, or will you fix any glitches yourself, if necessary?
- What do you charge for technical support?
- Do you have an active online support community of other users like us?
- Tell us about the implementation process. Will you send representatives to our offices to install the technology and help us download the necessary software?
- What will happen with our existing records and data? If we’re using an EHR already (and we’re thinking about switching vendors), how will our existing electronic data populate your system? If our patient records have been strictly paper-based until now, what’s the process for converting our old records into digital ones?
- What can you tell us about the security of our patients’ records?
- Who owns the data within the system? Us? Our patients? You?
- How will our providers and staff be trained to use the system? Will you retrain, as necessary, until everyone "gets it"? How often and in what format do you provide ongoing training -- including for advanced users?
- How long have you been in business? What can you tell us about your financial viability?
- What contract language protects us in case another vendor acquires your business?
- How much experience do you have in working with practices similar to ours (for example, a solo practice or one that focuses on meeting the needs of underserved populations)?
- How did you do in the well-regarded KLAS Research review of health IT vendors?
- Does your product have any kind of warranty?
- What happens in the worst-case scenario -- a total system failure that lasts for more than a few hours?
- Tell us about your pricing. Because we know the right EHR system will pay for itself many times over -- while the wrong one will cost us dearly even if it’s “cheaper” up-front -- we’re less interested in what it costs than in how much you charge. How transparent is your pricing? Will we be asked to pay for anything beyond what’s on your price sheet? Under what circumstances? Are there any fees that some customers pay but others don’t? What are they for, and how much are they?
- Do you offer different pricing levels for different kinds of products (say, a cloud-based system that we’d connect to online versus a client-server system that would be installed locally)?
This list certainly isn’t comprehensive, but it’s a good start. And if you ask your finalists to answer a list of questions like the ones above, then you’ll be making your EHR decision with your eyes wide open.
David Doyle is CEO of CRT Medical Systems, a medical billing company based in Novi, Mich. He founded the company in 1981. The firm currently ranks as one of the top 100 billing companies in the United States. Prior to starting CRT, Doyle worked as a lead programmer for large corporations and governmental agencies. He also created companies for IT staffing, programming and enterprise software sales.