Electronic Health Record Pricing Information and Guidance

Because I’m fascinated with the lack of information surrounding pricing of various electronic health records and because I admire the work of AmericanEHR Partners, I thought it relevant to shine a little light on another interesting piece of information from the organization.

As this seems to be the year of the big EHR switch, and because seemingly the folks at AmericanEHR hear as much as I do about the lack of transparency in the pricing structure of these solutions, I thought I’d publish some guidance for what to consider when making the transition to EHRs. In my research on the subject – I’m developing a piece on the subject of EHR pricing – I came across this piece, compiled by the AmericanEHR from the Maryland Health Care Commission.

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When Purchasing an EHR: Price Points to Consider

Fee, fees are everywhere, and not all EHRs are similar. But when purchasing an EHR, there’s much more to consider than just the amount of cash you’ll have to spend for the actual system you want. More than the sticker price of the system alone, you have to account for all the other functional pieces — like support, training and licensing — that need to be bolted on.

So, let’s hear it for the Maryland Health Care Commission. The Commission provides some great insight into all of the things you need to consider before making an EHR purchase and some intangibles that, when addressed, may determine your long-term happiness or misery with the tools you decide to implement.

The Commissions’ list is succinctly published by AmericanEHR Partners, which also makes a fine and sincere recommendation to take into account during the pricing of any EHR: “Price of the system alone should not be used as the primary determinant for the system, but rather one single factor to help make the decision.”

Licensing and Subscription Fees

Check to see how licensing and subscriptions work with the vendors you are shopping: Do you pay per clinician or per user, and do you pay more for more “seats” at the table if you need them? Is your payment all inclusive, meaning, are getting a fully integrated EHR with practice management system or are covering for additional features?

The Commission makes an interesting point here: Client server systems are usually licensed based upon a one-time fee with maintenance costs.

I’ll add the following: Hosted, cloud solutions are less expensive than client server to implement; typically fees are paid on a monthly retainer; and they often are less robust systems than on-site server-based counterparts.

Practicing with Your Practice Management System

If purchasing an EHR that includes and PM system, be cautious of paying extra for the practice management capabilities. With continued integration of the systems and requirements brought on by regulation, such as meaningful use, there really should not be any additional fees for the capability.

Vendors may offer a full version and a light version of PM. Make sure the light version can meet your practice’s capabilities if you decide to take that option.

It goes without saying, but make sure that the PM, like the EHR, is meaningful use compliant.

Paying for Patient Portals

According to the Commission, “Vendors may have tiered pricing for portals based upon level of functionality.”

Make sure you have an understanding the portal’s functionality, how it fits with your system and if it’s part of the EHR or an add on. It could go either way, but from experience, you’ll be paying extra for it. Don’t forget to budget for it if you plan to meet meaningful use.

Support, Training and Maintenance

No surprises here, vendor support costs vary significantly based on the level of service you need and when the support can be accessed. You’ll pay more for support at certain times like nights, weekends and holidays.

Training cost may be a bit more difficult to figure. Don’t get undersold, either. For more about training, read my recent post, “The More EHR Training You Receive the Happier You’re Likely to Be.”

To budget for training, you have to account for the trainer’s time, travel expenses and the amount of training you want. Plus, there may be a flat fee built in to cover it with additional hours sold in blocks.

The most important thing with training is to clarify how much you’re going to get for the price paid. A word of advice: Log your own hours. Track how much you’ve actually used and compare it to the amount that you’re billed.

Another cautionary tale from the Commission is to be prepared for any training initial fees and should be priced out separately.

Finally, the maintenance. Maintenance fees are generally included as part of your software agreement. If not, proceed with caution and read the agreement carefully.

And, according to the Maryland Health Care Commission, maintenance fees for client-server systems are generally 20 percent of initial licensing and interface fees.

Hopefully, some of the preceding information helps as you price and shop for your EHR. If you have additional tips or insights, please post them in the “comment” section.

The More EHR Training You Receive the Happier You’re Likely to Be

When someone says, “It’s just like riding a bike,” they typically mean that once you learn how to do a certain thing, you never forget. There’s something about the task or the ability of your body and mind to remember how to effortlessly accomplish the goal that just brings it back.

The same can be said for breathing; perhaps even driving or swimming.

Okay, point made.

But, remove the training, the time spent rehearsing or the practice attempts (you know, the fall on your head and the scars on your knees) and the whole process begins to make a lot less sense than it would had you put in the time to understand how to accomplish said task.

In fact, in the example of the bike, without the practice many never get to experience the exhilaration of reaching the peak of the hill after fiercely pumping on the pedal and finally zipping like a bullet train down the other side. In that instant of wind-rushing joy, all the hard work on the first half of the hill was worth the effort of being able to experience the second half of the hill.

I can’t imagine life without having learned how to ride a bike, or learning how to disappear into the pages of a favorite book because I knew how to read. Frankly, I can probably say the same thing about a few pieces of technology and software that I have been trained to use or that I have taught myself to use. Had I not learned how to use them properly, life wouldn’t be so rich.

Perhaps electronic health records don’t fall into the category of technology that enriches users’ lives if used properly, but there’s apparently a connection between the level of experience one has when working with the systems and the success they’ll have using them to track health outcomes and build efficient practices if they have received proper training of the systems.

According to AmericanEHR Partners, the results of a study it issued shows that user satisfaction was lower for clinicians that used an EHR but received less training than their counterparts who received more training of the systems.

Essentially, the more training and experience using the systems the more likely users are to get more out of the systems. Likewise, clinicians who received less training of the systems perceived their experiences with systems as less than positive.

According the study, five findings were discovered, none of them all that shocking, but certainly very telling.

AmericanEHR Partners found that the more training a survey respondent had with the EHR, the happier the respondent was. Secondly, three to five days of training on the EHR was typically required to achieve the highest level of satisfaction. Fewer than half of those surveyed said they received at least three days of training. The report’s other findings suggest more training leads to happier users.

In addition, according to the finding, those who had a hand in selecting the EHR were generally happier when using it than those who did not help select it.

So, there are some obvious questions here, which Steve Ferguson of Hello Health asks pointedly in his blog post on the same topic. In summary, Ferguson asks: are doctors not getting sufficient training? Why? Do vendors not offer enough training? Is it too expensive? Is the doctor at fault?

Well said; questions deserving of answers.

In some cases, though, no one is really at fault. Vendors, looking to finalize a sale add the fewest number of training hours to the deal so as not to scare new clients away. Training hours are expensive and typically not a free service provided by the vendor. The number of training hours vendors require their clients to buy have been know to cost vendors some deals. Too many training hours can cause some practice leaders to run.

In some cases, there’s often not a lot of margin in selling the EHR systems. Some vendors have even given them away to lure customers.

For vendors, the EHRs are a lot like gasoline at gas stations. The stations make next to nothing by selling the gas; it’s all the convenience store items you purchase while you’re filling up that keeps them in the cash. Same can be said for movie theaters. Theaters make little profit on the movie tickets; their dough is made selling you candies, popcorn and Cokes.

The point is that practice leaders are often scared by the often high prices of vendor’s training hours. Vendors sell systems so they can lock in lucrative annual maintenance and service agreements. They’ll forgo the training hours to close a deal to get to the monthly or annual client stipends.

Practice leaders are sometimes like moviegoers who buy the ticket, but bring their own sandwiches and sodas from home. They think they can get by on their own or will ask for free assistance from colleagues using similar systems.

In the end, it seems quite a few folks are standing around looking at the bike rather than getting on it and taking it for a spin, even though the practice and the inevitable falls is where the real value is at.