Timing of the Vendor Selection Process
There are several different options for how you might select a vendor. Some practices go through the planning electronic health record (EHR) implementation step and develop the selection criteria they wish to use. Other practices select EHR software and then begin the planning to support the selected EHR system. Most practices develop an initial plan to identify their key goals, conduct a vendor assessment select an EHR system that supports these goals, and finalize their plan after the selection.
Vendor Assessment: The First Step Towards Selecting a Vendor
A vendor assessment is the process of collecting information on several vendors and narrowing the vendor field before selecting an EHR system. The challenge of narrowing a large field of available options to a manageable number of vendors can be daunting, but it is a critical step in your transition to health IT. Follow the steps below to ensure your practice is able to effectively and efficiently conduct a vendor assessment.
Steps to Conducting an EHR Vendor Assessment
- Assess Your EHR Needs: Identify high-priority needs and EHR features that may meet those needs. Make sure you identify what EHR features you will need to achieve meaningful use and practice goals.
- Set EHR Goals: Follow the “SMART” goals process. Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound.
- Make Key Decisions: Make a list of potential deal-breakers and decide whether you want your EHR data to reside in-office, a vendor server, or in web-based storage (“cloud storage”). To help form a list of potential deal-breakers, research vendor websites and speak to colleagues and/or your local Regional Extension Center. Making key decisions up-front will enable your practice to effectively narrow the field.
- Narrow the Field: You can start with the Certified HIT Product List (CHPL) , which provides the authoritative, comprehensive listing of certified EHRs and EHR modules that have been tested and certified under the Temporary Certification Program maintained by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). Understanding the EHR certification process and whether the vendors you are considering offering certified EHRs will help you narrow the field of available vendors. To further narrow the field:
- Ask colleagues about their EHR experiences.
- Contact any medical societies you are a member of to ask for EHR evaluation tools and resources.
- Find information about different vendors online.
- Design and Issue a Request for Information (RFI): Develop an RFI to solicit information from vendors about their products and services. Ask for information about the vendor's organizational profile, implementation and training model, ongoing support, health information exchange (HIE) capability and included interfaces, Meaningful Use guarantee, estimated total cost of ownership, and availability for demonstrations.
- Compare Vendors: To compare and evaluate RFIs returned by vendors, you can use the Vendor Evaluation Matrix Tool [XLXS - 457 KB] to rate the basic functionalities, the Vendor Meaningful Use Compare Tool to rate the meaningful use capabilities, and the Vendor Pricing Template compare the costs of different EHRs. Using these tools will help you narrow the field further before you conduct demonstrations.
- Conduct Demonstrations: Schedule demonstrations with 2 to 5 vendors to “test-drive” the EHR products and interact face-to-face with the vendor team. Make sure to pay attention to the EHR's core functionalities, look and feel, and practice management features as well as walking through consistent clinical scenarios with each EHR you are assessing.
- Contact References and Schedule Site Visits: Ask vendors for lists of providers who have successfully implemented their EHR products. Contact the references and schedule time to visit the providers in person. Prepare a list of questions to gather lessons learned by the practice before, during, and after implementation.
The Final Decision
After establishing EHR implementation objectives, planning how EHRs will affect workflows, and conducting a vendor assessment to collect details on several vendors and narrow the field of potential vendors, you will be ready to select a vendor and enter the contracting phase. For more information on vendor contracting, see “What are important items to include in a vendor contract?”
Your Local Regional Extension Center Can Help
Your local Regional Extension Center (REC) can help you navigate the vendor landscape. RECs are located in every region of the country to help health care providers select, implement, and become adept and meaningful users of EHRs. Your local REC can help you identify key vendor considerations and objectively identify the vendor product that best meets your unique needs. Contact your local REC to find out if you are eligible for free or reduced-price local EHR selection support.
- Chicago Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center. “EHR Vendor Selection Best Practices: Guidelines for Picking the Right EHR System for Your Practice.”