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By Karthik Rao, Product and Brand Manager

Whether your practice is moving from paper to electronic records or from one electronic medical records (EMR) system to another, you must ensure that any system meets the needs of your practice.

Looking at a sales sheet or reading product reviews online won?t help you get a feel for how a physical therapy EMR will work in your practice. You must ask for a demonstration. But don?t let the sales rep do all the talking. Come prepared to ask tough questions about features, functionality and pricing.

Keeping the following seven questions in mind will help you discover an EMR system that will deliver benefits today and for many tomorrows.

Is a system integrated, or does it consist of several disparate modules?

For many EMR systems, vendors separate the clinical systems from billing, which can result in redundant data entry that not only slows your workflow but also increases the chance for errors. You want a system where clinical notes flow to billing, with single sign-on and a way to track receivables. Ask the sales rep to walk you through the full revenue cycle on their system, from scheduling all the way through payment, under a single sign-on.

How will an EMR address the pain points and limitations within your practice?

Your practice likely has areas where it struggles and others where operations could be improved. Make a list beforehand and have the sales rep show you during the demo how the EMR will solve your problems and improve your workflow.

How scalable is the EMR?

Scalability refers to both functionality within a practice as well as functionality as a practice grows. As your current business adds more locations, you?ll need to be able to look at your reports and metrics at the overall practice level, but also drill down to individual locations. And, as your practice grows, so does the number of users, which makes security and role assignment even more critical.

Where is my data, and how is it protected?

Cloud-based systems eliminate the need for on-site hardware and the IT expertise required to maintain and upgrade it. But you must ensure that protected health information (PHI) is held in a HIPAA-compliant data center and sufficiently protected while in transit. Ask about availability of any system and where backups are held.

How flexible are templates within an EMR?

Vendors include templates for popular PT regimens, but individual therapists have their own methods that make the ability to customize a critical factor in any EMR decision. Changing a template to fit an individual?s preference can be cumbersome, multiplied by the number of therapists in your practice. Bring a current therapy form and ask the sales rep to help you create a custom template. Be sure it can accommodate different question types such as multiple-choice and data tables.

How much will I pay for the system?

You need to understand the costs of any prospective system based on your current patient counts, amount of data, etc. Some vendors underestimate costs and fail to include additional costs that may occur as you adopt new functionality within the EMR. Get any cost estimates in writing.

What type of support will I receive?

If the system starts glitching while a patient is checking out, can you call the vendor for immediate support, or do you have to fill out an electronic form and wait for someone to call you back days later? Also consider whether a software vendor can help you get the most out of your investment, sharing best practices gleaned from other PT firms. Finally, does a vendor consider you a customer or a potential partner? A customer may buy something, but a partnership benefits both practice and vendor for the long term.

Buying or changing an EMR shouldn?t be a rash decision. Consider the state of your PT practice, where you want to be in three to five years, then evaluate systems based on your immediate, short-term and long-term needs and goals. The right system will support your needs today and adapt to your future needs, growing and changing as your practice does.