It is challenging for physicians to find suitable electronic medical record (EMR) software for their practice due to the complexity and large number of software available. To start your search for oncology EMR, it is important to understand what criteria to use and what features to look for in a potential EMR system. To find the right EMR for your oncology practice, you should look for software that is designed specifically for oncologists or a similar specialty. Oncology EMR software is customized to deal with the unique characteristics of diagnosing and treating cancer. Oncologists use a wider variety of imaging tests when dealing with patients – CT scans, PET scans, mammograms, ultrasounds, MRIs, and other scans. As such, your EMR should be compatible with a wide variety of image types from different imaging equipment and software, and be able to receive and analyze the large amounts of data that may be generated for each of your patients. Similarly, any EMR software you evaluate should be able to interface with labs for blood or other work-ups. Many oncology EMRs have a clinical decision support component integrated into the software, which can help map, identify the state of, and recommend optimal treatment for the cancer. Another important part of oncology involves the administration of chemotherapy. Oncology EMRs are able to facilitate this by automating many aspects of chemotherapy including the dosing and ordering of drugs, as well as scheduling and documenting when the drugs are administered. Additionally, dealing with cancer can be a very difficult process for a patient and his or her family, so oncologists often provide informational materials that help provide education and support. Any good oncology EMR will help oncologists document this information electronically.
At the start of software evaluation process, you should evaluate potential oncology 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 oncologists in your practice.
- Systems Architecture: You can purchase EMR software that is installed directly on your computer servers on-site at your practice (“client-server”) or EMR software that is located in the “cloud” that you access via the Internet (“cloud-based” or software-as-a-service “SaaS”). Some oncologists prefer client-server based 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 oncologists choose cloud-based 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 oncology 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 Oncology 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 oncology practices.
Such features include:
- ICD/CPT codes specific to oncology
- Compatibility with ultrasound, MRI, CT, and PET scans and other diagnostic image formats
- Built-in interface with labs (Quest, LabCorp, etc.)
- Chemotherapy management and automation
- Integration of patient education materials
- Cancer registry
Oncology 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, oncology EMR vendors offer a variety of pre-designed templates such as ones tailored for:
- Radiation therapy
- Skin cancer
While selecting a oncology 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.