In the electronic health records (EMR) software industry, there is a lot of recognizable competition. Dozens of systems are backed by brand names in the technology and medical fields, such as GE Healthcare and ADP Advanced MD. Other companies are specific to their industry and only deal in medical software technology, such as Epic Systems and athenahealth.

With the way the industry is moving, it seems to be only a matter of time before practices of every size have some form of EMR in their offices. When looking at potential new EMR/EHR systems for your practice, whether you are switching from an old one or just starting out, there are many options to consider. However, here are a couple important considerations.

The current shift in regulations and many EHR software companies is toward interoperability. This feature means that EMR/EHR systems can interact and easily share information with other systems not built and managed by the same companies. For example, a hospital using an EHR such as athenahealth could quickly share patient medical information with a small practice using athenahealth depending on where the patient goes for treatment. Some companies, on the other hand, may be less prone to interoperability. Some physicians and even politicians claim that this is the case with Epic Systems, one of the largest and most widely used EHR systems.

Meaningful use is the standard used by the government to judge EHRs to determine if they are being meaningful used and if the practices using them deserve government incentives. One of the big requirements with the meaningful use regulations is interoperability with the goal of unifying patient health care, so no matter where a patient goes, he or she will receive consistent, comprehensive care and avoid repetitive treatments. If you're looking to gain government incentives and, more importantly, avoid fines for not meeting national regulations, then you'll want to pay close attention to the interoperability of your potential EHR.

Web-Based Versus On-Site Hosting
Many of the leading EMR/EHR systems offer some form of web-based option. You pay a monthly fee to use the system, and the company takes care of hosting the software and the data within its own secure data centers. For many smaller practices, this is ideal as they don't have to spend extra resources on maintaining the system or purchasing new hardware, like servers.

Other companies offer an on-site hosting method or a combination of off- and on-site hosting. For true on-site hosting, the practice or hospital manages the hardware and software on their own premises in server rooms or facilities. For many larger practices, this means they don't have to pay regular monthly fees or rely on a company to make sure their system and data doesn't go down or get lost. A combination-hosting feature that some companies offer gives practices the option to choose if they want to host their own data while they company hosts the software.

Epic Systems offers another alternative for smaller practices in an effort to be more interoperable. While the system is intended for large health care facilities, Epic's Community Connect lets the large facilities using Epic to serve as host sites for small or independent practices. What this means it that small practices can have access to Epic by using another facility, like a local hospital, to manage the hosting of the data and software.

There are many possible EMR/EHR systems you can choose from on the market today, and that can make it difficult to decide. However, some key factors to keep in mind can help make the decision a little easier.

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