An uptick of vendor consolidation in the Ambulatory electronic health records industry has been a cause for concern for many small and medium practices recently. The main cause for concern lies in the preparation and costs associated with integrating their patient health records into new programs that are made necessary with vendor acquisition, especially if the acquisition has forced a phase-out of their current EHR program.
According to KLAS Research, an Orem, Utah based IT Review Firm, EHR vendors have dropped from 1000 plus companies 10 years ago, to roughly 400 companies in total. Some of the larger companies responsible for merging and acquiring in the Ambulatory EHR market are Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, Epic, and eClinicalWorks. Many see the opportunity for innovation, but these mergers have also created a unique set of challenges for small practices, Specialists and Outpatient Facilities. With these practices being reliant on the need to efficiently organize patient data as well as cross-share information to several labs, pharmacies, and other facilities in their networks, EHR has now become a necessary tool.
Market dynamics and technology advancements have proved that the move to electronic medical records systems is inevitable, but services once offered at low or no cost, now come with a monthly price tag. Service level changes, training costs, technology implementation, and practice continuity also serve as impact areas that Physicians should be prepared to address if migration to another system is required.
What About Technical Support?
Comprehensive Databases, such as Ambulatory EHR, will make technical support an important concern, not only for maintenance, but for any issues that may arise affecting day to day business. Will mergers cause reduced levels of tech support? Some physicians seem to think so. Practices reliant on specialized support options will now have to contend with an influx of other consumers operating on the same system, increasing help wait time and support availability. Frustration at rising costs, service level changes, and the elimination of special features in existing EHRs, have physicians worried that they will no longer be able to cater to their specific practice needs.
How to Prepare for Health IT Innovation
Ideally, Practices that are already utilizing EHR systems offered by the bigger players in the market have no cause for concern. For those practices that do find themselves needing to integrate into a new EHR system, preparation is key in order to avoid any potential negative impacts. The most important way to ensure a smooth transition is the current data organization. Physicians should understand where and how their data is organized, what format it is in, and the steps it would take to transfer it to another system. Current vendor communication and a review of contracts can also provide insight into costs and procedures of data migration, as well as a list of replacement vendors that would be best suited to practice needs if a switch needs to be made.
The Ambulatory EHR market will continue to make strides in innovation and technology advancement. Most of these changes are positive, like the introduction of Patient Portals, where data collection, tracking, and cross sharing have become streamlined and consumer friendly. Small Practices can avoid any potential negative impacts by simply understanding the data they collect, how to transfer it if they need to merge into another system, and by preparing a solid transition plan.
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