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Finding an EHR With Online Tools

Posted on January 5, 2016 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com, a free service for matching users and EHRs. For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manger doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst.

So, you want to dump your EHR and find another, or about to join the fray? Once you’ve got a handle on your requirements, this review lists some online tools that might help. Ideally, they’ll point to the one that’s best for you. Even if they can’t do that, they should help identify what you don’t want. Along the way, they may also raise some new issues, or give you some new insights.

Full Disclosure: I manage EHRSelector.com, but it’s not included.

Finding EHR Tools

The web has a surfeit of EHR evaluation tools. I’ve only reviewed those that are vendor independent and employ some filtering or ranking. That excludes spreadsheets and PDFs that just list features. I also skipped any that charge. I found the nine shown in Table I and reviewed below. Table II explains my definitions.


EHR Tool Table IEHR Tool Table II

EHR Tools Reviewed

1. American EHR. American’s tool gives you several ways to look at an EHR. Its side by side list compares 80 features. It asks users to rank a dozen features on a 1 to 5 scale. To use the tool, you pick a practice size and specialty. You can also see how users rated a product in detail, which shows how it stacks up against all its others. Unfortunately, its interface is a hit or miss affair. When you change a product choice sometimes it works and sometimes it just sits there.

2. Capterra. Capterra ranks the top 20 most popular EHRs, or at least the most well known. To do this, it adds up the number of customers, users and social media scores. That is, how often they’re mentioned on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Users rank products on a 1 to 5 scale and can add comments. It has a basic product filtering system.

3. Consumer Affairs. It examines ten major vendors using a short breakdown of features and user reviews. Users rate products on a 1 to 5 scale and can add comments.

4. EHR Compare. This tool solely relies on user ratings. Users score 20 EHR features on a 1 to 5 scale. It may add additional features depending on specialty. It only has a handful of reviews, which is a drawback.

5. EHR in Practice. EHR in Practice provides a short list of features and thumbnail EHR descriptions.

6. EHR Softwareinsider. This site uses ONC attestations to rank vendors. Its analysis shows those rankings along with Black Book ratings. Users rank products on a 1 to 10 scale. Interestingly, users can earn a $10 Amazon gift card for their reviews. For a fee, a vendor can move their product to the top of a list, though ES says that does not influence other factors.

7. Select Hub. There is one big if to using this site, if you can get in. As with some sites, SH requires that you register to get to its rankings. The problem is that once you do, you may wait for a day or more for a confirming email link. Even then, it didn’t see the confirmation, so I had to repeat, etc. If you get in, you’ll find some interesting features. Its staff briefly analyzes a product’s performance for each function. The other is that you can set up a project for yourself and others to query vendors.

8. Software Advice. Software Advice is a user rating site based on a 1 to 5 scale. It offers filters by rating rank, specialty and practice size as well as a short product summary.

9. Top Ten Reviews. As the name implies, Top Ten shows just that. There are two problems with its rankings. It doesn’t explain how it chose them or how they are ranked. It provides a thumbnail for each product.

What to Use. Several of the EHR comparison are just popularity contests. They have limited filters and depend on user reviews from whoever walks in the door. Two, however, go beyond that and are worth exploring: American EHR and Select Hub. Both have interface problems, but with persistence, you can find out more about a product than using the others.

With that said, you may also may find it useful to go through the user ranked tools. They may help you cull out particular products or interest you in one you’ve overlooked. Finally, if I’ve left something out, please let me know. I’ll add it in a revised post.

Warm, Fuzzy EHR Selection Website Looking for a New Best Friend

Posted on May 15, 2015 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com, a free service for matching users and EHRs. For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manger doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst.

After 15 years running the EHRSelector, a free, interactive app for finding an EHR, my partner, Cali Samuels and I want to sell or give it to someone who can help it meet its potential.

What’s the Selector?

The Selector’s idea is simple: Give those looking for an EHR an objective way to find a new EHR that centers on what it can do.

Here’s how it works. You go down an extensive EHR feature list. As you click what you want, it instantly shows which products match. You can then compare them like this: EHR Selector Side by Side.

Here’re its major categories. Each has a clickable feature list. For example, you can choose among 50 medical specialties. We also show which features are HIPAA or MU required.

EHRSelector Major Categories

What’s the Problem?

So, why do we want to sell it or give it away? Simple, we can’t crack two problems. Vendors don’t update their profiles and, consequently, there’s low user interest.

The selector depends on vendors subscribing to it and keeping their product lists up to date. Even though it’s free, we can’t convince vendors to update their information.

We’ve written and called, but we run into several problems. Often it’s impossible to get through to a person. When we do, we get bounced among sales, marketing and technical types. Contacts who we’ve dealt with are often gone and no one knows who can speak to all product features.

Then there’s the connected question of driving users to the site. If our vendor list isn’t up to date, we can’t expect a high user volume. As it is, we get some users who understand that while not everything is current, few EHRs take out features. Occasionally, whole college classes sign up. We’re pleased to serve them, but that rarely interests vendors.

How Does It Make Money?

It doesn’t. For several years, we ran the selector on a subscription basis for both users and vendors. This paid for hosting and maintenance, but the marketing firm that ran it lost interest and it began to lose subscribers.

Two years ago, my partner and I took it back, put on a new home page, added a blog and made it free for everyone. We hoped to get enough traffic to sell ads. That hasn’t worked out. We get a few hundred hits a week, but we don’t have the user or vendor interest to justify ads.

What Are We Looking For?

We would like to turn the site over to someone who shares our interest in an objective, interactive EHR selection tool. Obviously, we want someone who has the marketing clout to get vendors interested.

The Selector’s written in classic ASP. Its functions work, but it could stand a good rewrite making it more intuitive and less 2001. Finally, we’d love to add a mobile app, user ratings and graphics comparing products.

Sell or Buy?

Cali and I have enough cash and sweat equity in the selector to build a Tesla. It’s never paid, but we’ve been content to run it break even or even at a loss, because we believe it’s an important service.

We’d love someone to dump goo gobs of dough on us for it, modernize it, etc., – are you listening Google? However, we’re realistic enough to look for someone who shares our interest in giving users a useful EHR tool finding tool and who has the wherewithal to carry it on. You can reach me at: carl@ehrselector.com

EHR Usability: Is There a Right Path?

Posted on December 9, 2013 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com, a free service for matching users and EHRs. For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manger doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst.

The following is a guest post by Carl Bergman from EHR Selector.

Earlier this fall, the AMA sponsored a Rand Corporation study on physician’s professional satisfaction. Based on interviews with physicians in 30 practices, the study covers a variety of topics from workplace setting to quality of care, EHRs and health reform, etc. At the time, the report generated discussion about dissatisfaction in general with EHRs and MU in particular.

Usability, Part of MU?
Overlooked in the discussion was a new and important recommendation on usability. Here’s what is says:

Physicians look forward to future EHRs that will solve current problems of data entry, difficult user interfaces, and information overload. Specific steps to hasten these technological advances are beyond the scope of this report. However, as a general principle, our findings suggest including improved EHR usability as a precondition for federal EHR certification. (Factors Affecting Physician Professional Satisfaction and Their Implications for Patient Care, Health Systems, and Health Policy, p.142) Emphasis added.

It would be overkill to say that this represents adopted AMA policy, however, it’s not overkill to say that the recommendation is part of a project that the AMA initiated and supports. As such, it is most significant that it recognizes the need to bring some coherence to EHR usability and that the MU system is the logical place to put it.

Changing the Vendor – User Relationship
One commentator who did notice the recommendation was EHR Intelligence’s Robert Green. In his review, Green took a different tack. While agreeing that usability needs improvement, he saw a different way to get change:

Usability remains an enigma in many clinic-EHR vendor relationships because it hasn’t been nearly as important in the recent years’ dialogue as “meaningful use.” But among the competing priorities, usability among physicians and their EHR vendor is a real opportunity to develop shared expectations for a new user experience.

As a patient, I would rather not see the delegation of the “usability” dialogue of EHR to those in the roles of meaningful use certification. Instead, physicians who have spent many years of their lives learning how to “take care of patients” could seize the moment to define their own expectations with their EHR vendor of choice within and beyond their practice. (How connected is EHR user satisfaction to vendor choice?) Emphasis added.

I think these two different paths put the question squarely. They agree that usability needs increased action. Users have gotten their message across with alacrity: all systems fail users in some aspect. Some fail catastrophically. Though some vendors take usability to heart, the industry’s response has been uneven and sporadic.

Where these two approaches differ is tactics. Rand looks at usability, and sees an analog to MU functions. It opts for adding usability to MU’s tests. Green sees it as part of the dialogue between user and vendor.

As a project manager and analyst, my heart is with Green. Indeed, helping users find a system that’s a best fit is why we started the Selector.

Marketplace Practicalities
Nevertheless, relying on a physician – vendor dialogue is, at best, limited and at worst unworkable. It won’t work for several reasons:

  • Nature of the Market. There’s not just one EHR market place where vendors contend for user dollars, there are several. The basic divide is between ambulatory and in patient types. In each of these there are many subdivisions depending on practice size and specialty. Though a vendor may place the same product name on its offerings in these areas, their structure, features and target groups differ greatly. What this means is that practices find themselves in small sellers’ markets and that they have little leverage for requesting mods.
  • Resources. Neither vendors nor practices have the resources needed to tailor each installation’s interface and workflow. Asking a vendor, under the best of circumstances, to change their product to suit a particular practice’s interface approach not only would be expensive, but also would create a support nightmare.
  • Cloud Computing. For vendors, putting their product in the cloud has the major advantage of supporting only one, live application. Supporting a variety of versions is something vendors want to avoid. Similarly, users don’t want to hear that a feature is available, but not to them.
  • More Chaos. Having each practice define usability could lead to no agreement on any basics leaving users even worse off. It’s bad enough now. For example as Ross Koppel points out, EHRs record blood pressure in dozens of different ways. Letting a thousand EHRs blossom, as it were, would make matters worse.

ONC as Facilitator Not Developer
If the vendor – buyer relationship won’t work, here’s a way the MU process could work. ONC would use an existing usability protocol and report on compliance.

Reluctance to put ONC in charge of usability standards is understandable. It’s no secret that the MU standards aren’t a hands down hit. All three MU stages have spawned much criticism. The criticism, however, is not that there are standards so much as individual ONC’s standards are too arcane, vague or difficult to meet. ONC doesn’t need to develop what already exists. The National Institutes of Standards and Technology usability protocols were openly developed, drawing from many sources. They are respected and are not seen as captured by any one faction. (See NISTIR 7804. And see EMRandEHR.com, June 14, 2012.)

As I’ve written elsewhere, NIST’s protocols aren’t perfect, but they give vendors and users a solid standard for measuring EHR usability. Using them, ONC could require that each vendor run a series of tests and compare the results to the NIST protocols. The tool to do this, TURF, already exists.

Rather than rate each product’s on a pass – fail basis, ONC would publish each product’s test results. Buyers could rate product against their needs. Vendors whose products tested poorly would have a strong incentive to change.

EHRs make sense in theory. They also need to work in practice, but don’t. The AMA –Rand study is a call for ONC to step up and takes a usability leadership role. Practice needs to match promise.

NIST’s EHR Usability Conference Breaks Both Old Ground and New Focuses on EMR Patient Safety Protocol

Posted on June 14, 2012 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com, a free service for matching users and EHRs. For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manger doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst.

Regular reader, Carl Bergman from EHR Selector, attended the recent NIST EMR Usability Conference and sent over the following guest post on what was said. Thanks Carl for sharing your experience with us.

A year ago last June I attended NIST’s (National Institute of Standards and Technology) conference on EMR/EHRs usability. [See Carl’s post on the NIST EHR Usability Conference from 2011.] It was a mixed bag. There were several excellent presentations on the fundamentals of usability, how to analyze an EMR and where the field was headed. Unfortunately, NIST’s staff took a narrow view confining their work to EMR error conditions and assiduously avoiding interface, workflow and clinical setting issues. It was odd that an agency that prided itself on redesigning nuclear control rooms after Three Mile Island or the design of airplane cockpits would ignore EMR user interfaces.

New Approach: New Protocol

At this year’s conference at NIST headquarters in Gaithersburg, MD, the past was not prolog. Last week’s conference focus was on a comprehensive EMR usability protocol, NISTIR 7804, that NIST produced last February. (For a good synopsis, see Katherine Rourke’s Design Errors That Cause Patient Harm per NIST.) NIST’s staff pulled together a notable group of speakers on patient safety in general and implementing the protocol in particular. (NIST is posting the presentations here.)

The protocol, designed to review an EMR, is not a trivial undertaking since it has about 180 line item questions. It asks, for example, if the EMR:

  • Keeps patient identities distinct from each other? That is, does the system prevent one record from writing over another or erroneously sharing data elements?
  • Lays out pages in a consistent manner using color, icons and links identically?
  • Uses measurements consistently? That is, if weight is entered in pounds and ounces in one place, do they show that way in other places?
  • Displays fields fully rather than being truncated?
  • Sorts logically based on the subject?
  • Show dosages, etc., with all needed information on the page?
  • Displays multipage entries or lookups with proper navigation choices?
  • Has error messages that state what is wrong and how to cure the problem?
  • Accommodates different levels of user knowledge? That is, does it have extended help for novice users, refresher information for occasional users and short cuts for experienced users?

Developers Present in Force

If NIST’s major intent was to get developer attention, they succeeded. Of the hundred or so attendees, about 20 percent were from major systems. 3m, Allscripts, Athenahealth, Centricity, McKesson, NextGen, etc., each had one or more representatives present. Others present included Kaiser, HIMSS, Medstar, First Choice, ACP, Columbia, etc.

Unfortunately, there is no way to know developer reaction to the protocol. The conference had no comment session. I don’t know if this was by design or if time just ran out. NIST staff did indicate that next year the conference would be two days rather than one. However, a year is a long time to wait for reactions. This is especially pertinent since NIST is not a regulatory agency. Its protocols are strictly voluntary and depend on vendor acceptance.

What NIST did do is offer several presentations that emphasized how fragile patient safety can be in an HIT world. One breakout session used an actual, unnamed product’s screen that had dozens of misleading or ambiguous fields. For example, the screen’s fields cut off drug names, used red to indicate several different findings and used a pop up that blocked a view of a pertinent entry.

In another more broadly based patient safety presentation, University of Pennsylvania’s voluble Ross Koppel drove home how common elements in EMRs such as blood pressure – he’s found 40 different ways to show it so far – are subject to many formats for capture and display. Moreover, if you think EMRs have problems, Koppel shows how bar codes and work arounds can play havoc with workflow and patient safety.

Wanted: One Good Policy Compass

For those of us possessed of an EMR design demon, it was both a good chance to wonder out loud just what it all meant and where, if anywhere, things were headed. Sadly, the most common answer was who knows? There were some common points:

  • It’s better to have NIST’s protocol than not.
  • You can forget the FDA playing a bigger role. It’s under funded and over worked.
  • HIMSS will wait for the industry and the industry has shown no hurry.
  • EMR adverse incident reporting would be great, but who would do it and how open would it be?

In short, if you’re shopping for an EMR, regardless of your size, don’t count on anyone handing you a usability report on an EMR anytime soon. Moreover, don’t try to run NIST’s protocol on your own unless you have full access to the proposed EMR, lots of time on your hands and a good grasp of the protocols details.

There are some things you can do. You can ask potential vendors questions such as these:

  • Have they run the NIST protocol and what did they do as a result?
  • If not NIST, do they have a written usability protocol and, if so, can you see it? How have they implemented it?
  • Have they tested their EMR’s usability with outside, independent users? What were the results?
  • Have they used any interface designers?
  • What usability changes do they plan?

There is no guarantee that you’ll get a great product, but it could mean that you get one that doesn’t bite your patients or you.

Subsidiary Modules in Certified EHR Products

Posted on June 2, 2011 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com, a free service for matching users and EHRs. For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manger doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst.

Carl Bergman, from EHRSelector.com, sent me the following email which poses some interesting questions about various certified EHR vendors and the software that they depend on to be certified.

Many of the [certified EHR] products relied on several other software companies to function. Usually this was Dr. First’s Rocopia, Surescripts, etc. However, many others had required several subsidiary modules to work. For example, Pearl EMR lists: MS .NET Framework 3.5 Cryptographic Service Provider; SureScripts; BCA Lab Interface; Oracle TDE.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it raises three questions. Does the vendor include the price, if any, for subsidiary software? More importantly, how well integrated are these programs integrated into the main program? Does the vendor take responsibility if the subsidiary software changes making them incompatible?

He definitely asks some interesting questions. I’d say that in most cases, there will be little issues with the dependent software. Any changes by the dependent software are going to have to be dealt with or in some cases replaced by the EMR vendor. That will just be part of the EMR upgrade process that the EMR vendor does for you.

The only exception might be things like the third party ePrescribing software. Depending on how this is integrated it could be an issue. In most cases, integration with the ePrescribing software can be very much like an interface with a PMS system or even a lab interface. If you’ve had the (begin sarcasm) fun (end sarcasm) of dealing with these types of interfaces you know how it can be problematic and often a pain to manage. I believe the interface with an ePrescribing module is less problematic, but it will exhibit similar issues depending on how the EMR software works with the ePrescribing.

Personally, I don’t have much problem with these types of integrations. As long as the EMR vendor is providing all of the software for you. The reason this is important is because if you get the EMR software from one vendor and the ePrescribing software from another vendor and then tell them to work together, you’re just asking for a lot of finger pointing. However, if your EMR software chooses to integrate a third party software to flesh out the certified EMR requirements and provides you all of the software, then you’re in a much better position. As they say, then you only have one neck to ring if something goes wrong. You don’t want to have to call both vendors and have each vendor point the finger at the other. That’s a position that no one enjoys.

Types of EMR Reporting

Posted on April 28, 2011 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com, a free service for matching users and EHRs. For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manger doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst.

Guest Post: Carl Bergman of SilverSoft, Inc. is a principal of EHRSelector.com.

My wife and I play a game called Write Only Files. The only rule is who’s first to notice that something’s been stored never to be retrieved. They come in all sorts of places. I once visited a nursing home that dutifully kept all the residents jewelry in a closet, but without any IDs. It didn’t matter; the owners never came back to claim them.

EMRs are not as dismal, but sometimes I think all we talk about is how to put data in an EMR without dealing with how to get it out. You’d think that the entire function of an EMR is to put in and retrieve single patient records.

Yet, a versatile, intuitive reporting system is absolutely necessary. Not only can it answer questions that paper systems cannot approach, but it also can produce insights into both medical and financial issues fundamental to a practice.

Stage 1 has changed some of this by requiring reporting on populations, not just retrieving single patient records. To deal with this, vendors have put on a full court press to modify their systems for Stage 1 reports. Their efforts, which often required new capacities, point out how neglected EMR report writers have been.

The need for more sophisticated and user oriented report writers is only going to increase. Stage 2, ACOs and other HIE initiatives will make even greater demands not to mention increased use of EMRs.

These external demands will be complimented by user demands for more information about the practice both medically and financially. Meeting these demands are a mixed bag of current systems. Some products will grow into these new roles while other vendors will need to rethink their approach or fail.

Current EMR report writers fall into three basic groups, of which only one can fulfill their role. These are:

•      Wired Reports. These EMRs don’t have a real report writer; instead, they have single purpose “push button” reports for specific purposes. Users have little or no control over what they find or present. A typical report might show no show patients for a day.

•      Parameter Reports. A step up from wired reports, these allow users a fair degree of control over what the report finds and some control over formatting. For example, the user may choose sorting order. These are often built in a tools such as Crystal Reports. Depending on the development effort, the result may be a robust tool. However, the use of third part tool can have major drawbacks. These include:

     o   Rigidity. Modifying a report may require an on site programmer or paying the vendor

     o   Cost. The user often has to pay for the tool, its annual license and maintenance. If there are problems, the user may be caught between the EMR vendor and the tool vendor.

     o   Conflicts. These tools are generalized applications designed to work on many different systems not just the particular EMR. Problems can range from not having the desired function to the tool ending support for the application type.

     o   Learning Curve. Users will have to master both the EMR and the tool’s way of doing things.

•      Built In Report Writers. These are designed as an integral portion of the system. These overcome the problems of the other two classes; assuming they are built to meet a variety of reporting tasks. Even if a report writer can carry find and sort the desired data, it must also meet other requirements. For example, if the FDA issued a bulletin requiring practices to notify all their patients who have Crohns disease and take acetaminophen. The report writer should be able to identify these patients, email or prepare letters to them.

Even if an EMR has a crackerjack system, its mission can still fail if it does not have access to all practice financial data. Systems with a single database can do this. Those that link or coordinate the EMR database and the practice management db have a harder, but possible task. Those systems that have separate, uncoordinated, datatbases are out of luck regardless of how good the individual report writers may be. If a report writer can’t cross the EMR and PM line, it is not taking full advantage of practice data. Each time it can’t produce the needed reports it’s creating write only files for my collection.