Replacing an Existing EMR

Posted on August 17, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I received the following email from a reader of this blog:

I am the manager of a 2 physician, 2 nurse practitioner practice with an 11 bed sleep lab. We purchased our EMR in 2006, without much research, because it was compatible with our billing/scheduling program. It is grossly time consuming. Just entering a problem list takes 5 steps (for each disorder we are entering). It will not create notes as many EMRs do. We dictate notes to a transcription service and they are uploaded as documents. Basically it is a non-interactive storage unit, much like our paper charts were, except more time consuming. The company has basically told us that they will not be changing the system. The doctors and NPs are nearing revolt at this point because of the time that they spend trying to use this system.

What is your point of view on finding a new EMR? What would the time and mental repercussions be? Is it possible to coordinate billing systems and EMRs from different companies?

My reply was something I thought many on this blog would benefit from:
Thanks for sharing your experience. Unfortunately, it’s a common one.

The good news for you is it sounds like the notes in your current system is basically a document management system that stores your transcriptions electronically. This bodes well for you if you decide you’d like to move to a new EMR system. I say that because it is likely that you’ll be able to get these documents out of your old system and import them into a new EMR system so that your old EMR records are still available in the new EMR. Many EMR companies will work with you on doing just this.

If your current EMR system is worse than paper, then it sounds like change is likely a good choice. What I think you’ll find is the lessons you’ve learned from this first implementation will help you in your next EMR selection and implementation. It’s unfortunate you had to pay that price, but now that you’ve learned you might as well use it to your full advantage, right? In business they call it a sunk cost. It’s time and money already spent. You should base your decisions on changing your EMR on the time and money you’ll have to spend going forward and not costs which you’ll never get back.

It will take some time and money to fix it. However, those people who dislike your current EMR might be ready to commit the time and money needed to find a good EMR to replace what you’re using now. I will also say that I think unhappy workers is worth spending a lot of time and money to fix. An EMR should not start a revolt.

My only caution for you is that you need to take a real serious look at your clinic and ask an important question: Is it the EMR that’s the problem or is it something about our workflow/clinical environment/policies/culture that is the real problem with the system? Obviously, if it’s the former a change of EMR would be good. If it’s the later, then you might as well not change EMR software until you fix those other issues. I’ve often said that implementing an EMR just exacerbates any problems or weaknesses that exist in a clinical environment. It brings them to the surface and makes them hard to ignore.

Yes, there are a number of EMR companies that will work with your current Practice Management System (PMS). I’m someone who believes that if you’re very happy with your current PMS and the reimbursement that you’re getting from it, then it’s certainly a reasonable option to stick with your current PMS and interface it with an EMR company. In fact, there are some companies that are only EMR companies and then interface with various PMS systems. Their philosophy is that they should just focus their time on making an excellent EMR and not divide themselves between EMR and PMS software creation. Basically, they let another company focus on making an excellent PMS (or they’re are already excellent PMS systems out there). One example of this is Medtuity which is where I learned some of these principles. As I look at their product, I can see the advantages of focusing on being the best EMR and not being distracted.

Just know that there are costs associated with managing/supporting an interface between your EMR and PMS. Plus, there are some advantages to having the two integrated. You should weigh those out as you select a new EMR.

This was kind of fun. If you have a question you’d like me to answer, send it to me on my contact form and I’ll see about making it a future blog post.