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February 2011

Comparison of Web-based vs. Traditional EHRs For Physician Offices

An ambulatory electronic health record (EHR) can be provided to the physician practice through one of two different models:    

  1. Web-based-- also referred to as a "hosted EHR" or the "ASP Model" where the physician accesses the EHR through an Internet connection
  2. Client-Server (C/S)--  the traditional model where the EHR server may physically resides in the  physician's office

Both models are considered to be acceptable, but each has inherent pros and cons to consider.   The traditional model of choice has been the “client-server” model.   In this model the EMR software is installed on a server that is typically located in the physician’s office.  The physician and staff access the EMR through computer devices that are connected to the server through a local area network (LAN) set up in the office.  The computers may be connected wirelessly to the network if desired.   This model has a few similarities to loading Quicken on your home computer and then using Quicken to pay bills online: 

  1. After loading Quicken onto your computer you will periodically be advised by Quicken to take "updates" to fix known "bugs" in the software.  Similarly, you will load the EHR software onto the server in your office and physically download any updates to fix "bugs" that the vendor discovers and fixes.     
  2. Microsoft periodically advises you to take security updates on your home computer.  Similarly, the EHR server will need to take periodic updates from Microsoft.
  3. You may later decide to upgrade Quicken to its latest version, and then purchase and install the Quicken upgrade on your computer.  Similarly, you will want to upgrade your EHR software periodically, usually every 12-18 months.
  4. You may decide in the future to purchase a new home computer that is faster;  you will have to then load the Quicken software onto that new computer and transfer all of your old Quicken data to the new computer.  Similarly, you will need to periodically replace the EHR server with a newer one that is faster, stronger and/or meets future recommended requirements of the EHR software.  And make sure your data gets transferred as well.

The web-based model is gaining popularity.  In this model the EHR software is located on a server at a remote location designated and hosted by the EHR vendor.  The physician and staff access the EHR through the Internet on computer devices in the office.  This is analogous to online banking that you access on your home computer and use to pay your bills online (instead of using Quicken).  Using this analogy: 

  1.  You will not physically have to take updates because the bank will update the software themselves
  2.  Microsoft will not ask you to take Microsoft security updates to the online banking server because the bank hosts the server and will do that themselves
  3. When there is an upgrade to the online banking software, you do not have to purchase and physically load that software on your computer because the bank does that on their server that you are simply accessing.
  4. If the online banking server is too slow you will not have to purchase a new server, the bank will do that (if enough customers complain)...and they will migrate your data over to that new server)

Here is a comparison chart for these two EHR models:


Inhouse_vs_Hosted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personally, the business side of me is strongly averse to allowing a 3rd party vendor to take care of the “heart and soul” of my practice (i.e. the revenue dollars and the clinical data).   Hence, in private practice I would strongly favor keeping the server in-house.     However, the clinic I currently work at is a small part of a large academic institution.   For our ambulatory EMR I am leaning toward recommending a web-based model.  The presence of an institutional IT Department whose primary purpose is to support the education of thousands of students, not to understand and dedicate the resources needed to provide a high level of clinical IT support required for a clinician using an EHR.  And I know who is most likely to get trumped down the road when conflicting priorities arise!


Why should primary care physicians enroll for Regional Extension Center services?

Why should primary care physicians sign up for REC services?   What are the unique selling points and assistance they will receive as compared to other consultant organizations?  

These are excellent questions I am hearing from physicians in Texas regarding the four RECs that cover our entire state.  The RECs are subsidized by the federal government through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act which appropriated $640 million in REC grant funds to create 62 RECs across the nation, including the four in Texas. 

Primary care physicians in Texas should use REC services because they will receive a steep discount for high quality services that are provided through a trustworthy, physician-centric organization that was specifically created to meet the technological needs of physicians in their region.

In Texas the four RECs have collaborated to develop a shared business plan that leverages the federal subsidies to provide onsite technical consulting for a token fee of $300.    For this $300 enrollment fee Texas physicians receive over $5,000 in consulting services which include:

  • EHR implementation and project management;
  • HIT education and training; 
  • Vendor selection and financial consultation; 
  • Practice and workflow redesign; 
  • Privacy and security compliance education; 
  • Meaningful use analysis, tracking, and monitoring; 
  • Assistance in meeting meaningful use requirements for CMS incentives; 
  • Collaboration with state and national health information exchange (HIE); 
  • Ongoing technical assistance; and 
  • Opportunities for CME credit hours

In addition to this steeply discounted enrollment fee, the Texas Medical Association (TMA) works closely with the RECs to help ensure that the RECs are physician-centric and focused on meeting physician needs.    Physicians hold 50% of the seats on each REC's governing board as a result of the TMA’s early efforts.

Another unique selling point is that the REC technical consultants are specifically focused on, and experienced with, the small physician practice.    Other IT consultants naturally give priority to large practices or healthcare systems where they get large amounts of money from a small number of contracts.    The REC consultants, on the other hand, only get a small amount of money per contract, but they get a large number of them.    This business strategy allows them to become more experienced with and more focused on the small practice.    The REC administrative staffs enable this strategy by facilitating the enrollment of a large number of physicians and by using the REC federal grant funds to offer physicians the steep discount.

The four RECs in Texas are:


North Texas Regional Extension Center's Successful Start and Current Activities

Today, while wearing my hat as the Board Chairman of the North Texas Regional Extension Center, I am writing a message primarily to my colleagues who practice medicine across North Texas.   I am sharing this message through my blog, however,  because others may be interested to see and hear what is happening at the grassroots level of local and regional health IT initiatives:

 

 NTREC logo 
 February 2, 2011

To my physician colleagues across North Texas,

On behalf of the volunteer physician board members of the North Texas Regional Extension Center (NTREC), I am writing to inform you that registration for the federal electronic health record (EHR) incentive program has begun and that the money is already flowing.   In January, for example, two Oklahoma physicians at the Gastorf Family Clinic of Durant, OK, received $21,250 each for having implemented a certified EHR.   If you are considering making the jump to an EHR, or if you already use one, you may become eligible for EHR incentives up to $44,000 under Medicare or $63,750 under Medicaid by meeting “meaningful use” requirements.

NTREC receives federal grant funds for providing on-site technical consulting to enrolled physicians who are selecting, implementing or using an EHR.   This federal subsidy allows NTREC to charge primary care physicians only $300 for consulting services valued at $5,000.  

NTREC is focused on helping you:

  • Select and implement a certified EHR (or upgrade your current EHR to a certified version),
  • Optimize your practice workflow,
  • Achieve meaningful use,
  • Qualify for EHR incentives, and
  • Obtain CME credit hours along the way

I am happy to report that NTREC services were successfully launched four months ago.   Since then, 289 physicians have enrolled for services and another 370 physicians have enrollment contracts in progress.   Our goal is to provide services to more than 1,500 physicians in North Texas by the end of 2011.   Our operational plans will enable us to scale physician services to even higher levels if needed to meet physician demand.  

The federal EHR incentive program and these discounted NTREC consulting services are unprecedented and genuine.   Please call NTREC to enroll and set an appointment for on-site consulting at (469) 648-5140 or by visiting  www.ntrec.org.   The NTREC’s dedicated team of experts will be considerate of your valuable time and show you how they can help you identify and meet your unique needs.

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

 

Sincerely,

 Matt Murray, M.D.

DrMurray

Brown Lupton Health Center

Texas Christian University

 

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