The Tech Doctor: Low-Cost EMRs

November 1, 2007
Rosemarie Nelson

Price may be the biggest stumbling block to EMR adoption: The darn things just cost too much. Or do they? Expert Rosemarie Nelson looks at some less expensive options.


Every EMR acquisition must start with asking yourself what you’re trying to achieve with its implementation. What problems are you trying to fix? What objectives are you working toward? The answers to these questions will drive the functionality requirements of the EMR you choose. For example, are you simply trying to improve access to patient charts? Or are you preparing to collect and report data? We’d expect that all EMR solutions would address the first issue, but not every application can support the second.

If you want an EMR that will solve some of those “lost chart” scrambles in your office and give you access to your notes from home (and your partner’s notes when you’re on call), but you aren’t sure how much you’re willing to invest, maybe its worth a low-cost experiment.

For example, a three-month free trial is available from Amazing Charts, after which the product retails for $995 for the first provider and $200 for each additional provider. The key to deciding whether your purchase will meet your needs is to approach the implementation process with gusto. Three months spent transitioning your office to electronic charts may seem like a long time, but it flies by when you’re busy seeing patients. With Amazing Charts, you can document patient encounters by typing them up, with templates, and/or with voice recognition software. The company’s Web site offers an online community that shares different templates. The application makes it easy to document returning patient visits by accepting the previous past medical/social/family history.

An alternative is the monthly subscription model. A typical fee is $100 per user per month for the first two users, and $50 per month for each additional user. You can count on paying more for printing and scanning functionality that will allow you to document encounters, refill prescriptions, track tasks, and maintain patient histories.

You may not think that $4,495 for e-MD’s CHART plus another $1,495 for their DocMan scanning product qualifies as “low cost,” but you’re probably already spending more than that on supplies to create your current paper charts. The DocMan add-on gives you a scan-and-file solution that can ease your transition to a paperless environment. The CHART product is a traditional EMR that provides the functionality to document your visit notes, including options for templates.

Typically low-cost EMR products will give you a plain-vanilla solution that can be easier to implement than a full-blown EMR with lots of bells and whistles because you don’t need to invest days and weeks of your time building templates and content. Is it possible that in time you’ll outgrow your low-cost solution and want more functionality? If you’re like some of the medical practices I’ve worked with, the answer is yes. That’s where the experimentation part comes in.

It’s usually easier to learn something new by starting with an introductory course or quick lesson. A low-cost EMR can be your introduction to the technology. It will help you acquire some knowledge and new skills that can prepare you to move up in price and functionality if, with time, you find your needs are not being met.

Think of a new golfer - those who take a lesson first are more likely to continue with the game than those who take some swings with a bucket of balls and then give up. Do you want to join the group of EMR buyers that spends a lot of money and then goes back to paper? Or do you want to learn all the right angles and take a stance that allows you to keep swinging? There are many low-cost EMR solutions available in addition to the ones mentioned here - take a lesson and try one out!

Editor’s Note: Physicians Practice makes no endorsement of any product or service. For a list of additional EMR vendors, visit our online Buyer’s Guide section, and look for “Electronic Medical Records.”

Rosemarie Nelson is a well-known healthcare technology guru and principal with the Medical Group Management Association’s Health Care Consulting Group. She can be reached via editor@physicianspractice.com.

This article originally appeared in the November 2007 issue of Physicians Practice.