There are literally hundreds of electronic health records (EHR) vendors on the market and there’s no definitive process for determining which ones to evaluate, let alone which one to buy from.

But there are a handful of best practices that, if followed, will make the EHR buying process a little less daunting, according to industry analysts and EHR vendors themselves.

First, don’t get overwhelmed by a vendor’s list of EHR product features, said K Walter Keirstead, managing director of Wilmington, Del.-based EHR vendor Civerex Systems. As the battle for EHR market share heats up, no vendor wants to be seen as falling behind its competitors. As soon as a new feature is added by one vendor, the others quickly follow suit, Keirstead said.

Most vendors, therefore, end up having a pretty similar features list, a list that is constantly growing. But it doesn’t do potential customers trying to evaluate different vendors much good.

“Don‘t get into one of these features wars because it’s pointless,” Keirstead said.

Instead, potential buyers should zero in on the features most important to them and focus on comparing those features among vendors, said Dr. Thomas Handler, a former staff physician at Yale-New Haven Hospital and current analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner.

Oncologists, for example, frequently track cumulative doses of chemotherapy in their patients. Pediatricians often use growth charts to track a child’s height. Each would want to scrutinize EHR features related to these tasks, Handler said.

“Also consider the type of function you need,” said Jim Corrigan, vice president and general manager of U.K.-based GE Healthcare’s IT products division. “Some EHRs are more geared towards clinicians, while others were designed with back-office workers in mind.”

Dr. Robert Oates, president of SOAPware, a Fayetteville, Ark.-based EHR vendor, urges potential buyers to look for an EHR whose workflows models mesh best with their clinicians’ workflows. “You want a system that has flexibility on the timing and the rout [through which clinicians enter data],” he said.

Some physicians might routinely take a patient’s vital signs after a physical exam, rather than beforehand, the more standard approach. An EHR that doesn’t allow them to enter data related to the physical exam until vital signs data is entered could lead to frustration among clinicians.

And frustrated clinicians can lead to a low EHR adoption rate, all agree.

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