With hundreds of electronic medical record (EMR) choices on the market, family physicians may find it a challenge to select the appropriate software for their practice. By understanding and using certain criteria to evaluate potential EMR systems for your family practice, you can more easily find a suitable EMR software. First, you need to find the right EMR for your family practice by starting your search with a group of software that is designed specifically for family practice physicians or a similar specialty. Family practice EMR software is customized to deal with the unique characteristics of primary care. As a family practice physician, you need to be a jack of all trades, often drawing from multiple specialties as you foster long-term relationships with your patients. Your practice may offer x-rays, EKGs, or other diagnostics, in addition to physical exams. As such, your EMR should be capable of seamlessly capturing any data related to any procedure performed in the office, using several computers in different exam rooms. Often your patients will suffer from multiple, disparate conditions, so family practice EMR software should be able to chart multiple conditions at the same time. Family practice doctors often rely on tests performed by other specialists or technicians, so family practice EMR software should ideally be able to receive and analyze the large amounts of data that may be generated for each patient, even if from different software. Similarly, family doctors often refer patients to specialists. More and more family practice EMR software have automated referral systems making the process more efficient and easier to track. Other factors to be aware of include the abilities to prescribe electronically, and send patient reminders and other correspondence automatically.
At the start of software evaluation process, you should evaluate potential family practice EMR based on the following criteria:
- Practice Size: Some software is better suited to small practices, others to larger ones. EMR software is designed for a certain number and type of user, with scalability in mind. Make sure the software you select is appropriate for the number of family practitioners in your practice.
- Systems Architecture: You can purchase family practice EMR software that is installed directly on your computer servers on-site at your practice (“client-server”) or family practice EMR software that is located in the “cloud” that you access via the Internet (“cloud-based” or software-as-a-service “SaaS”). Some family practitioners prefer client-server based EMR software since they feel more comfortable with HIPAA compliance when they control all the underlying data on their systems, despite the need to maintain and upgrade these systems periodically. Other family practitioners choose cloud-based EMR software because it can be accessed almost anywhere through the Internet. However, you are reliant on your Internet connection, so you need to make sure the quality and consistency of your Internet service is high. It is worth reading about all the advantages and disadvantages of each type, to make sure you choose software with the systems architecture that best matches your needs.
- Certification: When selecting your family practice EMR, you should make sure that it is tested and certified by an ONC-Authorized Testing and Certification Body (“ONC-ATCB”). The ONC (Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology) is the responsible agency for establishing EMR certification standards and certifying vendor EMR products. ONC-ATCB certification assures that your EMR has met required Meaningful Use (“MU”) objectives and measures. This is a prerequisite to obtaining MU Medicaid (up to $63,750) and Medicare (up to $44,000) incentives for adopting an EMR, and avoiding penalties for not adopting one. To learn more about these topics, you may want to read the following articles:
Unique Features of Family Practice EMR Systems
Once you have narrowed down your EMR choices based on practice size, systems architecture, and certification, you can evaluate certain features that are unique to family practice.
Such features include:
- ICD/CPT codes specific to family practice
- Integration with EKG, X-ray, and other diagnostic equipment
- Vaccination tracking
- Ability to evaluate multiple conditions/complaints
- Capability of automating patient correspondence
Pre-designed Templates for Family Practice EMR
Family practice EMR vendors understand that not all specialties are alike. While there are a lot of similarities shared by all EMR software, you should be able to customize whatever EMR you choose to fit your specific needs.
To facilitate this, family practice EMR vendors offer a variety of pre-designed templates such as ones tailored for:
- Annual physical exams
- Health and wellness reminders
- Growth charts
- Patient education
- State-mandated forms
While selecting a family practice EMR may seem like a daunting task, having familiarity with the basic selection criteria common to all EMR software as well as some of the features customized for your specialty can help you make the right choice for your practice.