Does Your EHR Consultant Have Your Best Interests in Mind?

John Lynn
Published: Thursday, Feb 26, 2009
When selecting an EHR for your practice, using an EHR consultant can save you time, money, and headaches, but only if you select a consultant who knows what he or she is doing and who is a good fit for the needs of your practice. Selecting the wrong consultant can turn an already arduous process into a disaster: some are in the pockets of EHR vendors; others are only interested in locking you into a long-term services contract. So, how can you tell whether a consultant is right for you?



There are many bad EHR consultants who have given the industry a black eye. After hearing all the horror stories about practices being railroaded into selecting unsuitable EHR systems, consultants whose advice seems only to lead to additional billable services, and consultants who leave the job half-finished and in disarray (requiring the practice to engage the services of another consultant to help get things back on track), it makes you wonder why physicians continue to use consultants at all. The unfortunate reality is that most doctors and clinics do not have the time to appropriately research the EHR selection and implementation processes, meaning that the services of EHR consultants will continue to be widely used. Although there will always be an element of risk involved with the complicated process of selecting consultants and vendors and implementing an EHR system, practices can remove a great deal of uncertainty by gaining a better understanding of the types of EHR consultants, the pros and cons of each type, and how to select a qualified EHR consultant who best fits the needs of the practice.

Types of consultants

In order to effectively deal with them, it is essential for physicians to understand several things about EHR consultants, including the fact that many of them are not really consultants at all. The title “EHR consultant” is self-appointed; there is no EHR consultant regulating body or credentialing organization. Therefore, physicians and their staff must exercise caution and good judgment when evaluating the capabilities and claims of prospective EHR consultants. For simplicity’s sake, EHR consultants fall into one of three types: selection, implementation, and cleanup.

Selection

By far, the majority of bad experiences with EHR consultants have been with consultants hired to assist with the selection of an EHR. The problem is that most of the so-called EHR selection consultants are not really consultants at all. Instead, they are EHR salesmen disguised as EHR consultants. They are the “realtors” of medical IT, focused only on selling EHR software from vendors that pay them a large finder’s fee. One look at their list of clients will reveal a limited list of EHR vendors. These wolves in sheep’s clothing should be avoided at all costs.

A qualified EHR selection consultant is someone who knows and has contacts with dozens of EHR software vendors; a look at their list of clients should show a broad spectrum of EHR vendors. Their focus is on understanding each individual medical practice and selecting the EHR software that best matches the practice’s needs.

The difference between these two types of consultants is best described as the difference between a bounty hunter and a hired gun. The bounty hunter is only interested in collecting the referral fee (bounty) from the EHR vendor. The hired gun is interested in protecting the interests of the medical practice.

Implementation

There are two types of EHR consultants available to help with an EHR implementation. The true EHR consultant has immediate, short-term goals: get the practice on the right track, build momentum, create an implementation plan, and transfer knowledge. The other form of EHR implementation consultant could more aptly be described as a contractor; essentially, they stick around to provide extra manpower to assist with the myriad of implementation tasks and details. Sometimes, a little extra help is all that is needed, but do not confuse them with a true EHR consultant. Most medical practices choose not to use an implementation consultant, which often leads to the need for a “cleanup” consultant.

Cleanup

Unfortunately, many medical practices end up having to bring in a consultant to “clean up” an EHR implementation gone awry. The cleanup may involve fixing the mistakes made by a previous EHR consultant, saving a failed EHR implementation, or even improving an already fairly effective EHR implementation. These cleanup EHR consultants are usually quite effective because they are brought in to solve specific, identifiable problems. The most effective consultant will be deeply biased to the specific EHR software and vendor your practice uses, with extensive experience with and understanding of that EHR in a medical practice.


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