Buying EHR Software: A Prescription for Finding Your Ideal EMR

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Buying Electronic Medical Records Software for Beginners

Electronic Medical Records/Electronic Health Records Software

noun, (acronym: EMR/EHR software) Software to oversee the clinical operations of healthcare providers. EMR/EHR software automates the documentation, storage and retrieval of patient records.

Buying EMR software can be a complicated process. EMR software ain't cheap. Data migration and implementation, including training, ain't easy. It's normal to be intimidated, after all, there's a lot resting on making a good decision. At the same time, you're not a software expert.

Capterra exists to help businesses find the right software. This guide is meant to demystify the software buying process so that you can make a better decision in less time.

Maybe you're one of the many medical professionals who still rely on paper records or a rudimentary EMR solution. Almost a quarter (21.6%) of office-based physicians are using paper records, according to a 2014 National Center for Health Records study. Of those that use an EMR/EHR, nearly half (48.1%) use what the government calls a “basic system.

It's pretty clear why more physicians haven't gone electronic: With several hundred Electronic Medical Records solutions, all with varying features and prices, the decision can seem overwhelming.

This eBook is here to change that decision from overwhelming to easy by giving you the advice you need to buy the EMR that best suits your practice.

We at Capterra have created this software buyer's guide to answer all your questions about Electronic Medical Records Software, including:

  1. What is EMR Software?
  2. Why should you buy an Electronic Medical Records solution?
  3. How will the software benefit your medical practice?
  4. How do you pick the right package for your office?
  5. What will EMR Software cost?
  6. What are the range of features in a typical Electronic Medical Records package?

Once we've answered these and other questions, you'll be more than ready to go and buy your EMR software, and our guide will be here to help you along the way.

Chapter 1

EMR Diagnosis

Are you buying an EMR for the right reasons? Answer “yes” or “no” to the following diagnostic questions to see if your practice is ready for an EMR:


  1. Do you have an established process for filing and updating medical records?
  2. Does your practice have multiple locations?
  3. Do you enter the same information about a patient into multiple records or applications?
  4. Do you spend more time doing paperwork than you do meeting with patients?
  5. Do you struggle to receive the proper insurance reimbursements for the care you give?
  6. Do you spend a lot of money on paper and records storage?
  7. Do you often spend valuable time waiting for lab results or medical record updates?
  8. Do your patients sometimes make mistakes when reading prescriptions or notes?
  9. Do you invest a lot of time and money into note transcription?
  10. Do you miss out on new patients because your practice can't handle any more records?


Understanding Your Score

Is your score lower than you expected? Fret not—your practice might still be ready for an EMR:

Most practices don't operate from multiple locations, spend more time with paperwork than with patients, or struggle on the reimbursement front. Often, just one of these problems is sufficient reason to purchase an EMR, and two or three means that you'll definitely benefit from an EMR.

Furthermore, even if you don't want to grow your practice by adding more patients, smaller practices still benefit from the time- and money-saving capacities of an EMR.

If you find yourself asking, “Who is actually in charge of curating our medical records?” or “Do I really want to digitalize all my medical records?” you should probably reassess the situation and return to buying an EMR later.


Here's what an EMR can do:

  • Enhance the quality of care you provide by ensuring that you're viewing updated, legible patient information.
  • Increase patient visits by allowing you to spend less time on paperwork and more time with patients.
  • Boost collections and profitability by improving the accuracy and documentation for coding.
  • Improve office efficiency by reducing paperwork, accelerating medical charting and evaluations, handling prescriptions electronically, receiving lab and test results electronically and more.
  • Centralize information by combining information about a patient's history, allergies, and treatments all in one place.

Here's what an EMR can't do

  • Treat your patients. You'll still be the one to provide the diagnosis and care for the patients at your practice.
  • Completely eradicate human error. An EMR can help reduce errors in documentation, but you and your assistants will still have to ensure that coding is entered properly, for instance.

More Medical Software

You will probably run into some other types of medical software while you shop for EMR Software. They include:

  • Medical Practice Management Software automates activities such as scheduling, billing, claims processing and other related administrative operations for medical practices. Many vendors offer combination Medical Practice Management and EMR solutions.
  • Healthcare Management Software covers more ground than Medical Practice Management Software and integrates the financial, clinical and operational elements of a medical facility. It facilitates processes including billing, appointments, scheduling, regulatory compliance, and financial auditing.
  • Medical Billing Software manages patient billing and collections.
  • Medical Scheduling Software assists with patient, staff, and facilities scheduling.
  • Medical Transcription Software enables doctors to transcribe patient notes via voice dictation, a function that is offered in some EMR solutions.

What is the difference between EMR and EHR?

As you shop around, you'll no doubt hear about Electronic Health Records (EHR) Software. Oftentimes, the terms “EMR” and “EHR” are used interchangeably. However, the two solutions aren't quite the same:


An EMR is a digital version of paper charts: It documents and stores the medical history of patients in one practice or medical facility.

EHRs also include clinical data, but they're used by other healthcare providers than the one that originally compiled the information. EHRs are constructed so physicians, labs, hospitals, physical therapists, and so on can share patient information. An EHR is a comprehensive collection of medical records that is generated and stored at many medical facilities: The information travels with the patient.

Chapter 2

Your EMR Prescription

You've diagnosed yourself and assessed your condition--it's time to write a prescription for your ideal EMR. There are hundreds of EMR options out there, and each one has its own features, so you need to establish your requirements ahead of time. This step might seem tedious, but it will save you time and treasure down the line by narrowing your list of vendors to consider to only those that will suit your needs.

STEP ONEDefine Your Medical Record Goals

First, to decide on the EMR features you'll need, your practice should outline its main goals for keeping track of medical records. In other words, you should set down exactly what you want your EMR to do for you.

Make sure you know the answers to all these questions so you can have an educated, productive conversation with potential EMR vendors:

  1. What information do you need to record about patients?
  2. Do you want remote access to patients' medical records?
  3. Is there a particular person or team who is in charge of managing records or do numerous people have responsibility for records?
  4. How comfortable are the members of your practice with mobile applications?
  5. Are you a specialty practice that has specialty-specific needs when it comes to medical records?
  6. Do you have other medical software that you'd like to integrate with your EMR?
  7. With what kind of regulations does your EMR system need to comply?

STEP TWOCreate Examples

Come up with some detailed examples of how you will create and access your medical records, who will be doing the creating and the accessing, and what types of information you will need to enter.

Use your answers from Step 1 to inform each of your examples such that, when you talk to an EMR vendor, you can illustrate for them exactly what you need in an EMR. Remember, you should develop examples of the most common situations so you can avoid wasting money on features that really only deal with exceptions.

For example: Amazing Doctors General Practice cares for 100 patients on a regular basis. The practice consists of eight people, including two doctors and three nurses. Right now they keep track of all their patients' health data using paper records that the nurses and doctors fill out manually during an appointment. These files are currently easily accessible only to staff members actually at the office, but oftentimes a patient wants to keep a copy of their personal records, or it is necessary to send records to a different facility.

STEP THREE Decide on Your Necessary Features

The features offered by various EMR solutions are numerous, and they vary from package to package.

Carefully consider the needs of your medical facility, come up with the top 10-15 that are really necessary, and don't get distracted by the “cool” features that you will only use rarely. It's fine to keep track of those features in a “nice-but-not-necessary” list, but don't let them rule your selection decision.



Included in every EMR solution

  • Edit records
  • Chart management
  • Customizable reporting
  • Interview tracking and scheduling
  • E & M Coding
  • E-prescribing
  • HIPAA compliance
  • Internal messaging
  • Medication tracking
  • Recall and follow-up tracking


Not included in every EMR solution

  • Health maintenance reminders
  • Mobile access
  • ONC-ATCB certified
  • Patient education handouts
  • Patient portal
  • Patient self-assessment
  • Practice patterns and standards
  • Voice recognition
  • Wireless access


Cloud-based EMR: This is basically just a technical way of saying “web-based” or “online.”

Mobile EHR's: 91% of physicians are willing to consider implementation of a mobile EHR, which would allow doctors to update their patients' records from mobile devices.

Wearable Integration: Currently the world of health technology is seeing the rise of wearable technology, such as Google Glass, that can be integrated with an EHR, leading to easier access to records.

Patient Portals: Patient Portals let patients access their EHRs from their home computer or mobile device, sometimes even allowing patients to edit their own records. Often, they can be used to facilitate better patient-doctor communication.

Meaningful Use Incentives: An increasing number of doctors are adopting EMR systems that comply with requirements for Meaningful Use, allowing practices to cash in on much-needed government incentive funds.

E-prescribing: Physicians have a high satisfaction rate when it comes to EMR systems that include e-prescribing capabilities. E-prescribing, which lets doctors write and send prescriptions from a patient's EMR, saves physicians who use them a significant amount of time.

91% of doctors are interested in implementing a mobile EHR.

An individual EMR feature you should seriously consider is its platform. Do you want web-based software or a solution that's hosted on-premises? Since both types have their disadvantages, be sure to ask vendors detailed questions about security (especially with patient privacy on the line), backup/recovery, and data ownership.

Here are some pros to each kind of software:


Web-based: accessible anywhere with an internet connection, can be used on most computers/devices, maintenance and upgrades are handled by the vendor, lower initial investment.


On-premises: greater ability to customize, greater access to data, easier integration with other installed systems, greater flexibility with deployment, potentially lower lifetime investment.

The 5 Most Commonly Requested EMR Features

  1. Appointment Management
  2. Charting
  3. HIPAA Compliant
  4. Patient Portal
  5. E-Prescribing

*Based off of Capterra EMR buyers in 2014.

Chapter 3

Tips for Filling Your EMR Prescription

Now you know what kind of EMR to look for, and you can start shopping. Be aware that, just like when you're meeting with a patient, you can't just ask a few basic questions and expect to find a perfect diagnosis. Your first step should be to create a list of software options that could possibly be a good fit for your practice.


  1. Which of these options makes the most sense?


    Spend a week researching EMR solutions and entering possibilities into a complex spreadsheet.


    Use an online tool that does this for you.

  2. Do you really need to demo every EMR on your shortlist?


    No. Demos are just repetitions of what you learned in the sales pitches.


    Yes. You wouldn't diagnose a patient without seeing what's wrong with them first.

  3. Who should participate in an EMR demo?


    Your staff.


    Your practice manager(s).


    Your IT department.

  4. How much will you have to spend on an EMR?




    $1 million


#1: If you want to save time and energy, the answer is B.
#2: The correct answer is B. Demos let you see bypass sales jargon and see the software in action.
#3: Okay, so that was a trick question–the correct answer is “All of the above.” Each of these groups will be interacting with the software you purchase, so all of them need to be on the final decision.
#4: Sorry, that was another trick question! The correct answer is “Neither.” EMR pricing varies a lot, but don't worry—we'll break it down for you so you can easily compare solutions.

TIP ONECompile Your Short List

Capterra's Electronic Medical Records Software directory has all 320+ electronic medical records systems listed in the same location. Capterra's filtering tool lets you check off your essentials and narrow down your options.

Shortlist-iconYour mission is to write a short list of possible EMR solutions—just 3–5 is perfect. Then you can take a closer look at these systems and decide if they're right for you. If you only have basic requirements for your EMR, you might still end up with 15–20 (or even more) viable options after narrowing your results. However, if your needs are super specific, the filtering process might leave you with only 1 result. If you followed our advice from Chapter 2 and only focused on your top 10–15 features, you should end up with a manageable list to evaluate.

Remember, if going through this whole process is too daunting, we're happy to do it for you. Sign up for a free consultation and a Capterra Software Advisor will create the shortlist for you.

TIP TWODemo Away

Demo-iconOnce you've compiled your shortlist, you can move on to the fun stuff: demos! The most sure-fire way to decide which EMR software meets your needs is to conduct software demonstrations.

Demos happen in a couple of different ways, sometimes through one-on-ones with a sales representative, sometimes through are webinars where you aren't the only potential buyer. Whatever form they take, the demos and the subsequent conversations you'll have with vendors should give you answers to the following questions:

  1. Does the solution satisfy your most important requirements?
  2. Does the vendor offer excellent support and speedy service?
  3. How user-friendly is the solution?
  4. How compelling are the vendor's testimonials/reviews?
  5. How easy is the implementation?
  6. Does the solution require changes to your practice processes?
  7. Does the vendor have customers similar to you?
  8. How customizable is the solution?
  9. How innovative is the solution compared to others on the market?
  10. Does the solution satisfy some of your less important, “nice-but-not-necessary” requirements?

Helpful Tip

Quantifying your answers to the questions above so that 1 means “definitely not” and 5 means “absolutely” will make it easier to compare products.

Demo Advice

Where possible, go with live, one-on-one demos—they're optimal because they let you control the conversation and ensure you get answers to your specific questions.

TIP THREESurvey Your Practice

During the demoing and selection process, make sure you get answers to the following questions from each participant:


  1. How easy is the system to use?
  2. What kind of configurability is built into the system?
  3. How much access is there to data and reporting, and what does it look like?
  4. Will the system integrate with other systems like my billing software, for example?
  5. How easy is it for the system to import my existing patient records and other relevant content?

MEDICAL STAFF (Doctors, Nurses)

  1. How easy is the system to use?
  2. How easily can I search for and access patient records?
  3. How do I enter information into a specific patient's records?
  4. Can I schedule and manage appointments through the software?
  5. How do I track changes to a specific patient's records?
  6. How does this system make my workflow more efficient?
  7. How do I create a new patient record?
  8. How do I track changes in a patient's record?

IT DEPARTMENTS (If you have one)

  1. Will the EMR solution be web-based or on-premises? Can we handle one better than the other?
  2. How much customization is needed?
  3. How do we integrate content from other systems?
  4. How do we rollover from our previous record-keeping system?
  5. How much ongoing maintenance and administration will be necessary?

TIP FOURCompare Pricing

EMR pricing is not a simple affair. There are several factors that go into how much you'll pay, including the various different pricing models and your practice-specific requirements. In order to make valid comparisons between quotes, you need to know the various pricing models:

Other EMR pricing models include pay-per-bed and pay-per-encounter/patient.

Ready for a Healthier Practice?


The great thing about buying EMR software is that you never have to buy alone! Reference this guide throughout your buying process, and you'll always have access to a specialist who can help you make the right choice. Asking yourself the right questions and taking the time to examine your practice's specific needs will ensure that you end up with an EMR system that will make your practice healthier now and for years to come.

And remember—just because you're the one who will ultimately choose the EMR system doesn't mean you can't get a second opinion.

Let us be your consultant. We've helped many medical practices choose the right software and would love to help you too. Select the features you need, and we'll give you the options that match.


EMR Buzzwords and Jargon

We've covered enough to get you started, but as you're going through demos you might come across terms you aren't familiar with. Here's a cheat sheet to help you translate.

  • HL7: A compilation of medical messaging formats and related clinical standards that define an ideal presentation of clinical information. The standards provide a framework through which medical data may be exchanged.
  • Standalone system: An EMR system that is not integrated with other systems such as practice management software. They are less costly and less complicated to implement than integrable EMRs, and they can be used relatively quickly. They often store information associated with the prescribing process (for example, drug allergies or medication history).
  • Meaningful Use: Using certified electronic health record (EHR) technology to improve quality, safety, efficiency, and reduce health disparities; engage patients and family; improve care coordination, and population and public health; and maintain privacy and security of patient health information. Qualifying for Meaningful Use (currently in its second stage) allows practices to cash in on government subsidies.
  • A personal health record, or PHR: A health record where health data and information related to the care of a patient is maintained by the patient.
  • ERX – Electronic Prescription or Electronic Prescribing: Use of electronic devices to enter, modify, review and output or communicate drug prescriptions.
  • HIPAA – Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act: Enacted by the US Congress in 1996, HIPAA standards intend to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation's healthcare system by encouraging the use of electronic data interchange healthcare while still maintaining high levels of security and privacy for patient data.
  • HIT – Health Information Technology: As the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) and others have reported, the use of information technology (IT) has enormous potential to improve the quality of health care and is critical to improving U.S. health care system performance.

Getting Started

Helpful EMR Resources

Capterra provides lots of free resources to help you get started in your search for Electronic Medical Records software.


Who is Capterra?

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