Cookie Cutter vs. Customizable EMR

Posted on October 26, 2010 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.

Honestly, this is one of my favorite discussions to have about an EMR system. The only hard part is that it’s an endless debate with no clear resolution. However, the choices that an EMR vendor makes in regards to their cookie cutter vs. customizable approach is really important.

For those who aren’t as familiar with the issue, the challenge lies mainly in out of the box utility vs. ongoing improvement.

The first part of that challenge is that most doctors think that when they spend their hard earned money on an EMR software, that it should be able to just work out of the box. I think many of the other software programs and other things we buy have created this culture of things just working. For example, it’s amazing how few things you have to do to setup a new computer when you buy it. The computer manufacturers have done a great job making it dead simple to get your computer and be using it shortly after pulling it out of the box.

Most people want this same type of thing to happen with an EMR. Sure, they realize that there will be some customization and entry of their clinic specific data. It’s understandable to have to create some users, add in your address and phone number and a few things like that. However, there’s this expectation that I should be able to just start using the system. Many are surprised when they start documenting their first patient to realize that there are no templates (or insert other EMR feature) available to them for that patient.

Of course, in the EMR vendors defense it’s a challenge to pre-load the information in a way that it just works out of the box. Certainly an EMR vendor could load it up with every template imaginable. However, then they’d hear the complaint that the pediatric doctor had no need for those GYN templates and what kind of silly EMR vendor would make that simple mistake. Of course the EMR vendor knows this fact, but how do you build a software that can take this into account. Much easier said than done.

Of course, some EMR vendors have approached these challenges by providing a real cookie cutter approach to EMR. The complaints then come that the EMR system isn’t customizable enough for the doctor. Of course, these are the same people that would have complained about all the customization they would have had to do if they were just given a really bare bones EMR software install.

The reality is that every practice is different and so it’s a major challenge for EMR vendors to balance these two competing interests.

At its core, the EMR software needs to be as setup as possible right out of the box. However, it also needs to provide as much customization as possible so that when the out of the box features aren’t right for a particular practice it can be changed to fit their needs. It’s a funny little balancing act that has more basis in art than science. However, when done right it makes a huge difference.

What types of things do you do or have you seen to solve these challenges?