5 Essentials of an Effective EHR System

The first Meaningful Use incentives have been handed out to early adopters of electronic health records, and now the rest of the healthcare community is preparing to make the transition.

As with most new technologies, those who lead the charge often get to help work out the kinks. According to The 2011 EHR User Satisfaction Survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), only about half of the respondents were satisfied with their EHR systems overall.

While the survey of 2,719 family physicians currently using EHRs demonstrated that many EHR providers have room for improvement, it also helped to illustrate what features doctors find most useful.

Hindsight being 20/20, only 38 percent of those surveyed would purchase their current EHR system again. To avoid being a dissatisfied EHR user, here are five elements to look for when selecting an EHR system for your practice.

Customization
The ability for an EHR to be customized to your practice’s specific needs is essential for utilizing the system to improve patient care, without creating more work for you and your staff. The AAFP survey found that 78 percent of users were satisfied with the customization available in their EHR systems.

Integration
Customization will allow practices to integrate their EHR into their practice workflow and revenue cycle management functions. Having a fully integrated system will streamline patient management from appointment scheduling to payment processing and allow providers to focus on patient care.

Connection
About 70 percent of those surveyed were satisfied with the e-prescribing and electronic messaging functionalities of their current EHR systems. Both of these are essential for increasing the speed and quality of care delivered, as well as improving patient outcomes. Previous studies have found that EHRs linked with pharmacies can cut the number of patients not filling their prescriptions in half.

Implementation
The ability to quickly implement and install the system and train your staff is vital to preventing serious disruptions to your practice. Cloud-based EHRs can eliminate the high price and IT headache of installing the system, but the system itself has to be easy to use to make training your staff quick and efficient.

Service and Support
The AAFP survey found respondents were the least satisfied with the support and training they received from EHR vendors. Only 39 percent were satisfied, which shows that customer service still makes a big difference in overall satisfaction. As the support and technology fall in line, patients and physicians will begin to reap the rewards.

A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that diabetes patients whose physicians utilized EHRs received improved standards of care and had better outcomes in less time than patients treated with traditional paper records.

While the cost, efficiency and patient benefits of EHRs may not be fully realized yet, selecting the right EHR system can go a long way toward improving patient outcomes today and the delivery of health care tomorrow.

What are other essential elements of an EHR system? Post them below.