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December 29, 2014 Readers Write No Comments

What Physicians Want From Their Medical Software
By Charles Settles

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Physicians looking for medical software have many options. With hundreds of healthcare IT vendors and bloated feature sets, making a decision can be difficult. Especially when purchasing a system for the first time.

Many physicians are skeptical of vendor claims (especially regarding workflow efficiency) and healthcare IT in general. Additionally, learning a new system can be a daunting task for busy providers who have spent years managing patient encounters with paper charts. Some providers are opting out of healthcare IT entirely and are accepting reimbursement reductions or taking early retirement in order to avoid electronic health records and other systems.

Conventional wisdom (and the marketing material from vendors) would lead healthcare IT buyers to believe that Meaningful Use incentives are the number one reason to buy medical software. Based on responses we’ve received, fewer than 10 percent of physicians care whether or not their electronic health records system is certified for Meaningful Use. The latest data from CMS would seem to confirm this; less than 1.5 percent of physicians and organizations that attested for Stage 1 of the program have successfully attested for Stage 2.

The biggest factor for most physicians is effective document management. This should come as no surprise. It is difficult to achieve the goal of a paperless office without such tools. Despite requirements for health information exchange, interoperability between medical systems remains difficult. Many providers still use fax machines to coordinate care and share notes. An electronic health records system with built-in fax capabilities allows providers to bypass this. Additionally, the role- and user-based access capabilities provided by these systems keep health information secure in a HIPAA-compliant manner.

The second-most requested feature for medical software is template-based progress notes and orders. Despite concerns with upcoding or indecipherable template-based notes, most physicians want to be able to use customized templates to save time during encounters. One otolaryngologist said he performed “the same three procedures for over 90 percent of patients.” Using a template makes the most sense for providers who find themselves in a similar situation. Primary care providers were the only specialists to show an aversion to template-based notes, which makes sense, as a primary care provider is likely to deliver a much wider variety of care than a specialist.

Other features are less of a surprise: a patient portal, e-prescribing, and tablet or mobile-based access round out the top five most-requested features by providers using our service. Also, despite security and uptime concerns with cloud-delivered systems, it’s worth noting that fewer than 15 percent of providers asked for medical software that could be installed on their own server; 56 percent of providers requested cloud-based software; and the rest had no preference.

Despite the trend of providers opting out of the Meaningful Use Incentive Program, the market for electronic health records and other medical software systems remains significant. With estimates of healthcare IT adoption rates rising above 80 percent, many of these purchasers are replacing an existing system. This could explain some of the feature preferences, especially the significant preference for strong electronic document management capabilities.

Charles Settles is a product analyst at TechnologyAdvice.

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