How To Grill An EMR Vendor

Posted on June 4, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Today I found a nice blog piece on how providers — largely medical practices, the blog’s core audience — can grill EMR vendors effectively prior to sinking their money into a product. I say “grill” because the questions will force vendors to put up or shut up on several levels, something a lot of non-techy doctors wouldn’t know how to do.

Here’s the five questions, courtesy of the EMR and EMR Insights blog (with a few comments on each):

When did your company start operations, and can I have 2 references from each year you have been in business?

I don’t know about you, folks, but assuming older companies will produce better results involves some significant risks too.  Sure, a high-flying venture-funded partner might go out of biz next week, and that would be pretty terrible. On the other hand, many companies grow less creative and less flexible over time, and take their customers for  granted — even if it’s not part of a doofus big vendor’s lineup.  What about: “Can I have five references for clients in my specialty?” and “Please sign this contract addendum which addresses how you’ll handle it if your product is discontinued or you close you doors.”

* How many developers are assigned to work on your core EHR product? Where do the developers reside?

I like the Q regarding the size of the development team, which can be  make-or-break factor in keeping your product updated and bug-patched.  But as for where the developers reside, again, that’s a toss-up.  You could hire a vendor with a large but poorly-managed development team, or a small vendor whose team is overseas — but well-managed and effective nonetheless.

* How was your product and company ranked in the Best in KLAS Awards — Software & Services Report – December 2011, and the KLAS Ambulatory EMR Specialty Report 2012?

Interesting. In theory asking about rankings is a good idea, unless you don’t respect the people doing the ranking. (I know my colleague John Lynn isn’t a raving KLAS fan.)  I suppose rankings like these can be a touchstone, but they probably shouldn’t be a primary factor in EMR investment decisions.

* Do you have a whitepaper that explains your interoperability platform?

Definitely a good question, but the answer is probably over the heads of many clinicians and office managers making the EMR call. If a medical practice has someone on staff who’s geeky, or an IT consultant is on your selection team, sure, get the whitepaper. Otherwise, I believe medical practices would do better simply studying the literature and asking for a thorough, plain-language presentation explaining these features.

* What are your specific plans for meeting all the Meaningful Use requirements of Stages 2 and 3?

What can I say but yes, yes and more yes. A company that can’t answer this question should be toast.

One final note.  How about throwing in “If I can’t get to Meaningful Use within x days, do I get my money back?”  Seeing how your vendor reacts should be, um, educational.