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January 2015

10 Questions to Ask Prospective Vendors
By J.P. Medved
For The Record
Vol. 27 No. 1 P. 5

So you've compiled your shortlist of EHR software vendors, and you're ready for the next step.

But before you set aside hours and hours for demos with each one, there's one more thing you'll want to do that may help winnow down your list and save time: Add a round of key questions to the prospective vendors to help clarify what they offer and understand whether they're a good fit.

This will eliminate unsuitable vendors before time is wasted on viewing demos. Additionally, even if the answers fail to shorten the candidate list, health care organizations can use the information gathered to make better use of the demos and learn more about the software itself.

The following are recommended questions to pose to EHR vendors prior to viewing demos:

1. What type of software training is available? Is it in-person, over the phone, or online? Is it included with the software package or is there an additional monthly or annual fee? Getting answers to these questions allows health care organizations to budget more fully and determine whether they must hire additional IT personnel to troubleshoot and maintain the software.

2. How are software updates handled? How frequently is software updated? What are the update fees? What specific updates are pending? Are updates automatic (as with many Software as a Service solutions) or do they have to be manually implemented?

3. Who are some of your current customers? Can the vendor provide a representative list of current clients that are similar in size/scope to your organization? Can any demonstrate their return on investment? Use this information to gauge the software vendor's financial stability. If the vendor has difficulty listing clients or has few similar to your organization, they may not be around long or be able to cater to your needs.

4. What content comes prepackaged with the software? Does the vendor provide a comprehensive list of drug-drug interactions and drug-allergy interactions? Are templates for your specialty included? How frequently are templates updated?

5. What are the software's certifications? Does the software qualify for meaningful use stages 2 and 3? Is it HIPAA compliant? Organizations aiming to take advantage of federal EHR incentives and observe specific privacy and security measures must be aware of the software's capabilities.

6. What is the software's pricing structure? Is it all inclusive or per module? Does the vendor charge based on the number of practitioners using the software? Is the number of office locations a factor? Does the vendor charge for training, updates, customization, maintenance, or support? It's also important to obtain information on the total cost of ownership over a specific timeframe (five years is ideal).

7. Is customization possible? Can the workflow be customized to meet the practitioners' workflow? To what extent will templates need to be customized for a particular specialty? Who is responsible for customization? The vendor? The provider?

8. What are the system's integration capabilities? Can existing systems be integrated with the software? At what cost? How are current data entered into the system?

9. What type of reports can the software generate? Can the system produce reports for government agencies and compliance? Can reports be customized for practice-specific processes? Ensure current reporting requirements can be met.

10. What are the system's hardware requirements? Are upgrades or new purchases necessary? What is the cost of new or additional hardware? Does the vendor provide the hardware and assist with implementation?

By posing these 10 questions to the vendor prior to a demo, providers will be able to concentrate on specific questions about the software's functionality during the presentation. Don't make the mistake of scheduling multiple hour-long demos with five different vendors only to find that two systems are too expensive and one can't integrate with the billing system.

— J.P. Medved is a content editor at Capterra, a privately held technology and online media company focused on bringing together buyers and sellers of software.