As the dental industry moves into a new era of more sophisticated dental software, including a new generation of dental electronic health records (EHRs), dentists, practice managers, and administrators are becoming increasingly confused in terms of the evaluation and selection of these new technologies.
To complicate matters, as in any new profitable opportunity, there will be a growing list of dental electronic health record vendors entering the market. I have found this to be true in the medical software market over the past decade as vendors have proliferated along with the exploding need for EHRs
So, give yourself an edge and follow evaluation and selection processes that I have been assisting my practice clients with for years. Whether you’re evaluating an EHR add-on from your present practice management vendor or looking at new EHR systems you do yourself a disservice by not following a proper evaluation and selection process.
The selection team – It’s not just for group practice
Putting together a selection team which represents various skill sets and functional areas is NOT just for larger group practices. I've argued this for years and my small practice clients, as well as group clients that have embraced the idea of a multidisciplinary selection team have been the most successful with their EHR evaluation and selection. Think about it, whether you are small or large practice there are functions that are in common such as front office, back office, clinical, and financial. Staff members with different skill sets will use different aspects of the new software you are evaluating. So, just as it would be difficult for a billing expert in the practice to properly evaluate the clinical documentation features of the system, a dentist or hygienist would probably have difficulty evaluating the billing and claims processing functionality. I can think of some practice owners over the years who insisted on making their decisions without input from other members of their staff and ultimately missed evaluating some of the nuances of the system the ultimately purchased.
Do the features meet your short- and long-term needs?
When I work with a practice and assist in helping evaluate EHR software vendors the first thing I do is have the selection team members prioritize features that are important. A good way to look at this is to think about features that are truly "deal breakers" and those features that are nice to have not necessarily critical to the use of the system. An example of a "deal breaker" might be the ability to do ePrescribing, whereas a nice to have feature might be a web patient portal.
Vendor demonstrations are critical to the process, but the question with vendor led demonstrations is "who’s running the asylum?” Vendor account reps are infamous for controlling the demonstrations, showing you what they want to show you, not necessarily answering your questions, and overall being control of the process. So, instead of spending unnecessary time seeing things that might not be critical to your decision-making, wouldn't it make more sense for you to take charge and get what you need out of your demonstration instead of your account rep’s view of what they think you need? With dental electronic health records and associated clinical software the first step is to develop a number of clinical scenarios, visits that represent what you would normally see on a daily basis..
The above two concepts, prioritizing features and functionality, and conducting scenario-based demonstrations will help you to focus on both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of comparing feature sets from vendors.
How does your vendor measure up?
It is not off base to ask questions pertaining to vendor revenues, history, experience in individual practice, group practice and specialty practice, size of support and R&D staff, etc., etc. When I work with clients I tend to ask probing questions regarding a particular vendor’s organization.
In terms of references, make sure that the reference practices you are given adequately reflect the profile of your practice if possible. When doing reference checking it is very helpful to have a set of common questions to compare each vendor by. it is important to find out their experiences with the vendor regarding implementation, support and communication.
The benefits of being a geek
Most practices focus on dental EHR features and functionality… What you can see and hear. If they like what they see and the functionality passes the muster test, then many times a practice is comfortable moving ahead with a specific vendor. Now, maybe I'm just a geek at heart, and 30 years in technology can confirm that, but I do things a little differently when I'm hired to help the practice evaluate and select their software vendor. I like to put as much importance on how an EHR application is built as how it looks and feels. I have too often seen situations where, on face value, the EHR looks good, but under the covers has numerous technical flaws. You wouldn't buy a Ferrari that was retrofitted with a Volkswagen engine, and you shouldn't purchase a dental EHR that has good features and functionality, but is sorely lacking a solid, standardized, scalable technology.
As co-chairperson of a national advisory committee for standardizing the structure of electronic health record vendor proposals, I will tell you that evaluating different vendor proposals doesn’t always lend itself to apples to apples comparisons. And, you don't want to get in a situation where you chose a dental software vendor, implemented the system, and then proceeded to be "nickel and dimed” after the fact. Make sure when you compare vendor proposals that everything you need is outlined and there is consistency between cost items on one vendor proposal and another. Make sure that different proposals are specifying similar products and services.
Tying it all together – The RFP
The best way to assure yourself that you ask all the right questions of the vendor and that the vendor responds to your needs for this information in a timely basis is to use a Request for Proposal. This RFP documents answers to topics posed in this article as well as other critical areas to be concerned with such as implementation, training, and support processes.
A well-structured RFP will:
Hopefully, some of the advice in this article will help reduce the stress which inevitably forms a cloud over a practice that is in the process of evaluating and selecting dental electronic health records and other types of dental software. By using some of this information you can take charge and level the playing field when it comes to obtaining the best possible software for your practice.