More than likely, if something is free, you pay in other ways. There are many free Electronic Health Record systems available online right now, but none of these offer comprehensive functionality, customization, and ongoing technical support. What’s more, vendors offering free EHR platforms must make money somehow. This is often accomplished through unseen methods including the targeted advertising and sale of user data, passing the costs onto the patient, or by offering basic EHR software that will require costly upgrades later on to realize its full potential.
Before seeking out a free Electronic Health Record solution, here are some important points to consider.
The Unseen Costs of Free EHRs
Any healthcare organization that opts to use a free or open-source EHR system often still needs to pay for several elements surrounding the implementation of that platform. Consider the cumulative costs of new hardware and infrastructure, the time and resource costs of the actual implementation, and the costs of ongoing assistance and maintenance – all typically without the support, options, and backing of an established vendor. Furthermore, the indemnification and liability risks that are covered with a traditional vendor are not covered by a free EHR system.
Free EHRs Lack Service Support
Getting your hands on any open source EHR software is simple enough, but fully realizing a functional system is not. Implementing an EHR system is almost always a complex process, regardless of the platform used. A huge cost to using a free EHR, unlike using a system from an established vendor, is that there won’t be a team of specialists ready to assist you, to offer you guidance, and to perform the implementation along with you to ensure optimal outcomes.
Many open-source programs outside of healthcare benefit from the collaboration of large communities of users. But when it comes to healthcare, the community simply is not substantial enough to offer the support needed to address problems and setbacks. Most physicians, nurses, and hospital administrators are far too busy and/or lack the technical know-how to seek the proper assistance or contribute to the development efforts of online communities for free EHR software.
Minimal Ease of Use & Clinical Decision Support
Generally, ease of use and intuitive user interfaces are not well developed or even considered necessary for free EHR solutions. These systems lack clear and understandable buttons, icons, layouts, fonts, and color schemes. These features may seem insignificant at first, but they are actually fundamental practices of design that greatly facilitate EHR implementation, training, ease of use and acceptance among users.
Most EHR vendors understand the importance of clinical decision support tools to aid in the effectiveness of patient care as well as to increase patient safety. Open source EHRs are significantly lacking in this area.
If an organization is considering a free option, they should make sure to have access to the following support solutions:
- E-prescriptions and counter-indications for medication orders
- Reduced reliance on manual text entries
- Reporting efficiency
- Integration with Lab and Imaging systems
The Different Types of Free EHRs
There are many free EHR solutions currently on the market from numerous vendors. A quick search online will return more results than most healthcare administrators would want to sort through. One might ask, “How do these EHR providers stay in business when offering their EHR solutions free of charge?” The answers may surprise you.
An easy way for a technology service to earn a profit without charging its users is to rely on advertising revenue. An EHR platform based on ad revenue means its users and physicians will see advertisements while using the system. This may seem like a minor nuisance when compared to the cost savings of a free EHR system, but there are major privacy concerns surrounding patient and administrative data. Laws regarding protected health information are continually changing and the use of protected health information for targeted advertising may potentially subject you to violations and other data mining offenses.
Patients Pay Model
Some free EHR software relies on patient contributions to keep the program free. Essentially this EHR model requires physicians to request that their patients pay for their EHR system. Patients who cannot, or refuse to pay ,will not have access to every benefit offered by the EHR system. This can create discord between patients and raises ethical issues as those who are willing to pay extra are afforded services that others are not. Examples include blocking prime hours in an appointment scheduler or limiting the functionality of health records for those who do not pay extra.
This model of service does not rely on advertisements or asking patients to pay for the software. Instead, only a basic framework EHR platform is offered for free. The concept is that once you have committed to using the software, you’ll eventually want the more functional and convenient add-ons, all of which are offered for a fee. This could include robust practice management tools, patient portals, billing, scheduling, reporting, etc., all at additional costs. This option appears to be a cost-effective option at first but can end up costing far more than it would have if choosing a paid option from the very start.
Is Free EHR Software Worth It?
Few things in life are actually free and almost always come with strings attached. Before you commit to any EHR platform, you must be aware of all of the factors at play. Think about every process you would like your EHR software to perform and whether or not that functionality is included upfront or at a cost later on.
In the end, it is up to you to decide which kind of EHR solution will be right for your organization. While free options may look good on paper, with a little sleuthing, you will find they rarely work out as well as advertised. The best move you can make is to learn everything you can about what an EHR platform offers and whether it aligns with your needs. To learn more and to schedule a no-obligation demonstration, please contact our service team to get started today!