Will Your EHR Vendor Be Around in 5 Years?

Posted on January 10, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Angela Carter, marketing manager at ChartLogic.
Angela Carter
A major concern physicians have dealt with over the past 10–15 years has been choosing the right EHR solution for their practice. With the rise and fall of numerous electronic health record companies, that concern has evolved to whether a chosen EHR will still be in business five years from now.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), there are over 900 EHR vendors currently on the market, many of whom offer more than one product. In some ways, the huge number of EHR choices has been a good thing for healthcare; it has forced vendors to be more innovative and to cater to the needs of their users. However, the market can’t possibly sustain this many similar projects for long. Eventually, small vendors will be swallowed up by larger vendors and many others will simply go out of business.

So how do you know if your EHR vendor will survive the EHR purge that has already started? Of course there is no way of knowing for sure, but below are a few questions you can ask yourself that will give you a good idea of your EHR’s future.

1. How long has the vendor been in business?

Past performance is usually a good measuring stick for the future. Hundreds of vendors were born after the HITECH Act was passed in 2009, which means that most EHR vendors are still relatively new. Newer EHR companies aren’t necessarily a bad thing—some of them are actually better than some of the legacy systems that have been around for decades—but be wary of any company that doesn’t have the years in business to back it up. A vendor that has already proven it has weathered the EHR storms for 10–15 years will be much more likely to survive current and future challenges than the new, promising EHRs.

Don’t just look at how long the vendor has been in business, though. Research the vendor’s track record as well. If your vendor has a high retention rate—90 percent or higher—then you’re in good company.

2. How usable is the EHR?

For years, doctors put up with EHRs that didn’t meld with their workflow, but that tolerance is coming to an end. Black Book Rankings called 2013 “The Year of the Great EHR Switch” because most EHR implementations happened in practices that were on their second or third EHR. The reason for this shift? Usability. Eighty-seven percent of doctors cited usability as their primary complaint about EHRs. (Source: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/7/prweb10926499.htm)

For some reason it took many years for usability of EHR systems to catch on, but now that it has, the difficult-to-use systems will have a difficult time holding on to customers. Point-and-click EHRs have never been popular among physicians, especially those who see 50+ patients a day. EHRs that utilize voice technology, though, are growing in popularity. It is highly unlikely that any EHR system will cater 100 percent to a physician’s needs and preferences, but voice offers much more flexibility than traditional point-and-click systems do, not to mention voice-driven systems are more likely to follow the workflow physicians already use.

3. How well does your vendor understand your specialty?

The reason the industry hasn’t settled on just a couple of vendors by now is because workflow among different specialties varies so widely. Physicians need vendors that are very good at their specialty, not those that claim to answer to the needs of all physicians. A vendor that dedicates itself to producing and improving capabilities that align with your specific needs will take much better care of you. Not only that, but they will be more able to evolve with you as technological demands change, giving the company more stability in a shaky market.

4. How’s the support?

Never underestimate the power of a good support team. Most EHRs aren’t designed to work flawlessly fresh out of the box; you need adequate training and ongoing support, too. A recent Software Advice survey revealed that about 60 percent of respondents reported “learning to use the system” as a one of the main challenges with their EHR, even more challenging than achieving meaningful use or finding costs to support the system. (source: http://www.softwareadvice.com/medical/userview/ehr-survey/)

As a business metric, support may be even more powerful than usability, especially since federal regulations keep tightening, limiting the freedom to change certain aspects of an EHR. A vendor that communicates with its customers regularly will stand out.

5. Is the vendor ready for meaningful use stage 2? ICD-10?

Over a thousand vendors certified for meaningful use the first time around. Less than 40 of those vendors have received complete ambulatory certification required for 2014. Add ICD-10 to the mix and very few vendors will be able to keep up with these increasingly difficult technological advancements. Vendors that don’t have a plan already in place regarding how they will re-certify for meaningful use and be ICD-10 compliant will be among the first to go.

A vendor that scores well in each of the five questions above will most likely have what it takes to make it through the next five years.

Angela Carter is a marketing manager at ChartLogic, an EHR for orthopedists, ENT doctors, and other specialists. In addition to managing all of the company’s content, she writes regular blog posts for various health IT sites. She is also the associate editor for Utah Technology Magazine, a start-up magazine that aims to tell the tech story happening in Utah.