Should you care which EMR your doctor uses?

When you are looking for a physician, what kind of criteria do you use?  Location is probably a priority as is whether or not the physician accepts your insurance.  You might review your state’s medical board, make sure there are no issues with licensure.  Reviewing a physicians medical school and residency training is important.  Some people even like to go in for an appointment just to meet a physician.  As one of my patients once told me, he had to “kick the tires” on a new doctor before he would commit to seeing them regularly.

While all of that is important, should patients start asking which electronic medical record a prospective doctor uses?

At first glance, it doesn’t really seem to be something that a patient would care about.  Patients have enough to worry about, let their physician worry about the electronic medical record, or EMR.  There may be some reasons that you may want to include an EMR into your decision-making process.

Physicians spend a significant percentage of their day using the EMR. From scheduling an appointment to checking into prescribing medications to reviewing test results, the EMR is at the center of any clinic.  Does your physician like their EMR?  Does it make them more or less efficient?  Will your care suffer if the EMR drags your doctor down and causes them to be chronically late and attentive only to the computer screen, not to you the patient?  The EMR is the tool physicians use to make their encounter notes, and those notes are the basis for insurance coverage, referrals, and prior authorizations.  Is the EMR good enough to make it easy for your physician to create good notes?  Is it portable, can your doctor easily access it at home or when out of the office?

Most EMR’s can not integrate with EMR’s at other health care institutions.

Many people will have more than one physician that they receive care from.  Can those physicians use their EMR to communicate?  Can your physician’s EMR provide information to the local hospital if you are admitted for an illness, or will they have to wait for your doctor’s staff to print out your chart and fax it in?  Are you going to have to tell your medical history every time you see a different doctor or go to a different clinic?

You want to communicate with your doctor.

It isn’t enough anymore to call your doctors office, leave a message and wait for a callback.  Can you communicate directly with your doctor through their EMR?  Is it easy to receive your labs and test results?  Can you ask the questions about your medical care with email or text?  How comfortable is your doctor with digital communication or will they just have their nurse leave your results on your voicemail?

Sharing data with your health care team is important.

There are many connected health devices in your life.  Can your doctors EMR integrate with any of these connected devices?  Can you send your weekly blood sugar log to your physician for review?  What about a picture of a new mole on your arm, can that information be transmitted electronically?  Will your doctor have to ask you how much you exercise if they already have your daily average of steps, miles run and calories burned?

While not the most important criteria when choosing a doctor or health care facility, the fact is the computers and EMR’s are central to health care today.  Choosing the right combination of physician and technology could be the difference between a good and bad experience in health care.

Matthew Anderson is a family physician who blogs at Digital Medicine and You.  He can be reached on Twitter @DrAnderson19.

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