Specialist EMRs: Pros and Cons

Posted on March 19, 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 FierceHealthcare.com 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.

Right now, the bulk of well-known vendors are fighting for hospital and multispecialty/primary care group business.

But specialist EMRs are a thriving market, too, and one analysts like myself don’t cover often enough. To get an idea of how many specialist EMRs are out there, check out this list of EMR specialties my colleague John Lynn compiled. Though it’s from 2009, it should give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here.

Is it really necessary for specialty physicians to buy an EMR dedicated to their profession?  One specialty vendor offers a thoughtful argument as to why their approach is better:

 Clinical content is required to sufficiently document exam findings, diagnoses, and medical plans. To be truly effective, an EMR must possess a comprehensive library of information that alleviates the need for physicians to document from scratch. Otherwise, both the workflow efficiencies and the documentation improvements touted by EMR vendors suffer.

But, according to [Peter] Waegemann, “most medical specialty societies simply are not ready to ‘come up with the data’ around which vendors can design specialized systems.” Therefore, most generalized EMR vendors put the responsibility for developing clinical content on the shoulders of their customers. But, therein lies the problem.

Writing a comprehensive, usable library can take up to 400 hours of a physician’s time – time that is already in very short supply and very expensive. The sheer amount of time required for such a task oftentimes delays implementations, frustrates users, and is one of the top reason behind EMR failures. Some vendors rely on third party resources to sell libraries to specialty customers, but doing so oftentimes raises the overall cost and complexity of the solution to unacceptable levels.

On the other hand, I can think of at least a few reasons why a specialty EMR might not be the best choice for a practice:

* Interoperability:  If your practice joins a health information exchange (and let’s face it, that day is coming for most physicians) will your specialty EMR be able to link up comfortably with mainstream systems?

* Connections with hospital systems:  Another interoperability issue. If the hospital where you do most of your business is an Epic shop, and you’re using, say, the

* Workflows that don’t fit with major systems:  It’s all well and good to be really comfortable with your specialty EMR, but how will that work when you’re forced to “switch gears” and use mainstream systems in settings outside your practice.

So folks, which side do you come down on in this discussion?