Electronic medical records: Not the healthcare software “silver bullet”

As the electronic health record (EHR) discussion rages on, I’m continually asked why organizations need healthcare software such as enterprise content management (ECM) or document management if they already have an electronic medical record (EMR) – that’s a lot of acronyms, I know.

I’ve tried saying, “EMR and ECM – it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.  It’s really more like apples-to-oranges.”  But that response only elicits more questions.  So, in an effort to bring clarity to the EMR vs. ECM showdown, I’ll expand a bit. Let’s start with an analogy to one of my favorite pop culture infomercial phenomena:  the Magic Bullet.

Have you seen this thing?  It claims to be able to do it all – chop, mince, grate AND blend!  When I first saw it on TV, I was impressed by the vast capabilities of this “blender.”  It made me believe that a single tool really could do all of those things – and do them all well. 

In fact, a quick Web search revealed that, overall, many reviewers are satisfied with the Magic Bullet.  But, an interesting theme emerged – while it does everything claimed in the infomercial, it doesn’t do all of those things well.  You get where I’m going with this.

Putting this in the context of the “meaningful use” standards, one has to wonder:  Is the EMR the silver – or Magic – bullet that will get you there?  Does it provide the capability and functionality to meet all of the requirements? 

My short answer: No. Depending on what you’ve heard so far, this might be a bold statement. But, in my experience, there’s absolutely no way that one single technology is enough.

 It’s not just me who’s thinking this – the market is proving it. An article last summer about trends affecting the document management market focused on one trend in particular: that EMR and ECM integrations were rising. What’s more, it suggested that EMR vendors are taking notice of this and, as a result, aren’t developing their own inclusive ECM solutions because it’s not what they do best.   

So here’s the bottom line: EMR and ECM solutions bring immense value to healthcare organizations, both by adding their own functionality and by complementing that of the other. But when EMRs pretend to be ECM, vendors overpromise, customers get confused, and in healthcare, patients are put at risk.

So to all the software vendors and made-for-television gurus out there: Know what you do, do it well – and stick to it.

Susan deCathelineau

Susan deCathelineau

With more than 20 years of healthcare technology and operations leadership experience, Susan deCathelineau is a leader in providing management and consultant services for Health Information Management, Revenue Cycle and Electronic Medical Record strategies. Most notably, she was responsible for the successful enterprise-wide OnBase implementation at Allina Health, which included the integration with the Epic electronic medical record (EMR) initiative. In her current role at Hyland, deCathelineau is responsible for developing and implementing a global strategic vision, to ensure that OnBase Healthcare solutions and services earn customer loyalty and deliver operational excellence. Prior to joining Hyland in 2006, deCathelineau was director of corporate information services at Allina Health System and vice president of product management at QuadraMed. She holds a bachelor’s degree in health information management from the College of St. Scholastica, and completed her master’s degree in health services administration at the College of St. Francis. She is currently Hyland’s vice president for global healthcare sales and services.

3 Responses

  1. Robert says:

    Very good article. One size doesn’t fit all.

  2. You couldn’t be more right in this, and I truly believe that the smart EMR Vendors are the ones that recognize what they do well and partner with companies like Hyland to provide a comprehensive solution.

    It’s a lot like comparing Bass Pro Shops and Bloomingdale’s. Both are both stores, they both sell clothes, but the reason for going to one store is likely very different from the reasons for visiting the other. I believe that EMR Systems and Document Management Systems can be viewed in much the same way.

    Thanks for posting this!

  3. This article definitely touches on a difficult subject matter – the difference between EMR and ECM solutions and that they are not the same thing! However, they do prove to be extraordinarily complementary. While an EMR system is a fantastic way to get a handle on patient records…it does not address the rest of the paper found in a healthcare setting.

    After you understand the value in electronic document management AND have made the decision to convert…why limit yourself to just medical records? If value can be demonstrated to digitize and manage healthcare records, then your other files (HR, AP, QA, etc.) could also stand to benefit from the very same solution (something an ECM system can provide).

    Whether it is a Document Management (DMS), Enterprise Content Management (ECM) or an Electronic Medical Record system, there are benefits to be found. The true difficulty lies in expressing these differences and exploring how these two systems work together – not individually.

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