Three Tips to Remain Engaged with Your EHR Vendor

April 21, 2015

Managing an ongoing relationship with your EHR vendor takes time, but it is well worth it. Here are some tips on managing this key relationship.

Your physicians are using the EHR. You think you've got your arms around what it will take to manage your system over time and ensure you're achieving meaningful use. What's next? Well, you have a new vendor relationship you need to manage to ensure your EHR continues to contribute to your practice's success.

Here are three tips on managing this key relationship.

Discuss upgrade and maintenance fees

Practices will need to pay approximately 18 percent of the cost of their system each year for maintenance and support; that includes upgrades, so long as the EHR is client-server based, according to Derek Kosiorek, principal consultant with the Medical Group Management Association’s Health Care Consulting Group. If it's a cloud-based EHR, it's all baked into the cost, he said.

"Everything's negotiable until you sign the paper," said Kosiorek. Once a practice has signed a contract with their EHR vendor, they're "on the hook" for those terms.

"The best time to talk about pricing is when you buy the system," he said. "The only arrow you have in your quiver [after that] is if you're considering switching systems. And that's not a card you want to play every time you want to negotiate new terms."

Understand your vendor's upgrade schedule

"Have an understanding of the vendor's plan for future enhancements and upgrades," said Kosiorek. "Inevitably, your practice is going to want something, and the vendor will tell you that's either an enhancement or a feature request. If it's an enhancement, it has to go into the development cycle."

This is especially relevant with the evolving meaningful use regulations, according to Kosiorek, who recommends that practices get educated by their vendor on the product development cycle for the EHR.

Lil Sonntag, health IT consultant and project manager at Aurora-based Colorado Rural Health Center, recommended practices ask early on about the impact of upgrades.

"With cloud-based systems, you don't really have a choice, [the vendor just updates] it," she said. "I know they've gone through a test process, and typically those [upgrades] work really well," she said. Still, Sonntag said that product updates can break things, such as meaningful use reports.

Practices should ask up front about getting on an e-mail list of product updates and what "hot fixes" will be included in those updates, advised Sonntag.

Attend the vendor's user group meeting

Kosiorek advised practice administrators to attend their EHR vendor's user group meetings because these events present a great opportunity to talk to the vendor and fellow users. "In fact, when [practices] are negotiating their contracts [with vendors], I usually recommend that they negotiate in a couple of free tickets to the first user group conference," he said.

Practice administrators should look at the user group meeting program ahead of time and determine their current pain points because, undoubtedly, something at the user group meeting will address those concerns.