Develop Your Own EMR – Crazy, But This Guy Did It Anyway

Posted on July 30, 2013 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

When I read John Lynn’s post “Develop Your Own EMR – You’re Still Crazy!” the other day, I thought of Dr. Terry Ellis. I talked to him in 2005 when I worked for the daily Leaf-Chronicle in Tennessee. He had developed his own EMR, and I wrote about it.

Dr. Ellis operates Ellis Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery and Implants in Clarksville. Another surgeon, Dr. Ted McCurdy, practices with him. He wrote his EMR after teaching himself Visual Basic 6.0. I thought that was cool. His only other programming experience had been a one-semester college course in 1977. Dr. Ellis started using the software in his own office in 2002. He started a firm called DescriptMed and began licensing the product, The Chart, to other practices.

Dr. Terry Ellis, an oral surgeon in Tennessee, developed his own EMR called The Chart.

Dr. Terry Ellis, an oral surgeon in Tennessee, developed his own EMR called The Chart.

I wondered where Dr. Ellis’ EMR journey had taken him since we last talked, so I got in touch. The story had an interesting turn. Dr. Ellis still uses a descendant of his EMR every day, but it’s from a different company, and it has a new name. Here’s what he had to say.

How did you develop your EMR?

I spent many hours from 2002 to 2007 improving this EMR. Many nights, weekends and nearly all of my spare time was spent either programming in VB6 and SQL or thinking of coding problems that would come about from a “fresh idea.”

Why didn’t you go with an established vendor?

Primarily the EMRs that were available were obviously written by non-practitioners and did not enable me to effectively use the product in my practice. Most of the products were rigidly programmed or “hard coded.” Most had limited flexibility and really didn’t offer bang for the buck. I only looked at a few, and the closest that ever made it was Amazing Charts, but it still was not what I needed.

Did you have any software development experience?

No. I had taken Fortran IV in college at Murray State University in 1977. I had to learn VB6, VB.Net & C# as well as SQL with database programming on my own. I bought several good books and did a lot of searching online.

How well has it worked for your practice?

It has been the best thing I have done for record keeping. We would never go back to paper.

You eventually expanded it beyond your own practice. How successful has that effort been; how many practices are using it now?

I had users from New York to Georgia, Oklahoma, California and Washington. A cardiologist in Pomona, Calif., still uses it. He even flew me out there to help him get started. My longest user is an internist in San Jose, Calif.

What’s different about your EMR compared with others on the market?

The biggest thing was the flexibility that users had. They could put almost anything they wanted in their own words into the H&P elements. Thus things like complex counseling or treatment statements/paragraphs could be entered in one or two clicks. Other products did not offer this approach. By the way, I hold a copyright on my product.

How has it changed over time?

I moved it from Access database to MySQL and MS SQL. It has numerous features that can support multiple specialties

How has it fared in Meaningful Use?

Not well. I haven’t tried to keep up with that rat race.

How do you keep it updated?

Currently my EMR is embedded in a product out of Washington state. We work together to produce a full-featured PM/EMR for oral and maxillofacial surgeons. I don’t know how many are using it, but I believe there are several hundred oral and maxillofacial surgeons using the EMR under the Oral Surgery-Exec name. This is being marketed by DSN Software in Centralia, Wash. They have a strong following.