Why Superior EHR Customer Service is Critical to Your Practice’s Success

In today’s increasingly complex environment, superior service and support from your EHR vendor are critical to long-term practice viability. Reliable customer service can no longer be viewed as just a box to be checked on the EHR scorecard during the selection process—it is vital to success.

Why Superior EHR Customer Service is Critical to Your Practice's SuccessThe EHR industry is characterized by fairly poor customer satisfaction—the average KLAS score for service sits at a low 73% (Ambulatory EMRs for 11–75 Physicians). Physicians who cannot rely on their EHR company for excellent support will find their productivity and success jeopardized. No longer is the impact of an EHR limited to its use in managing charts—the increasing demands of government and other payer programs have extended the reach of an EHR beyond the four walls of the practice, and success or failure now has increasingly significant financial implications. Physicians must be able to successfully share information, connect to HIEs, and report on clinical data. In the future, they will need to respond to new reimbursement models such as ACOs. All of these communications are complicated and fraught with potential technical challenges—even with the best EHR solutions—making access to the highest quality customer support vital.

Meaningful use incentives are foremost on the minds of most physicians right now, and the program’s requirements are complex, confusing, and challenging. Physicians rely on their EHR vendors not only for the technical support necessary to achieve meaningful use, but also for the educational resources required to successfully navigate the program. Unfortunately, this kind of support is not universally available within the industry. The findings of a recent survey presented to the HIT Policy Committee revealed that physicians cite vendors—in particular, the lack of adequate support and training and unresolved technical problems—as a major obstacle to achieving meaningful use.

Physicians want to know that their EHR company will be in business for the long term. In a recent post, “The EHR Bubble Will Pop—To the Victor Go the Spoils,” I maintained that significant market consolidation is inevitable, and that many, if not most, of the 472 EHR companies currently offering certified EHRs will not survive the shakeout. Customer service is a distinguishing feature among EHR companies that will be important in ensuring a vendor’s future viability.

So, what constitutes excellence in EHR customer service and support, and how do you see through the promises made by vendors during the sales process to ensure that you will receive the level of support that you need? The highest quality customer support requires a sufficiently large team of highly skilled, well-trained, eager-to-please employees, who are easily reachable and accountable for responding within a defined and appropriate amount of time. Where possible, they should be proactive, not just reactive. Such a team requires oversight by senior management, which is really only possible if the support department is not outsourced or sent overseas. You should rely on the real experience of colleagues—review the KLAS ratings and then validate them by doing your own due diligence.

Wall Street and EHR Customer Satisfaction

I was recently reviewing the results of the KLAS 2011 mid-year survey, in which EHR users rated their respective vendors and products. Having spent some time on Wall Street early in my career, I could not help but notice a striking correlation between customer satisfaction and company ownership. The three top-ranked EHR companies—and five of the six top-rated companies—are privately held, while the bottom three—and eight of the nine lowest ranked companies—are publicly traded.

At first, I attributed this finding to sheer coincidence, but as I thought more about it, I realized that the correlation, while striking, is not surprising. Beholden to Wall Street, publicly traded companies seek to satisfy investors with short-term profits. They may be motivated to cut costs to generate higher net income for investors, and their ability to reinvest in ways that will promote future growth can be constrained by these outside interests. One common way to manage costs is to locate support offshore in call centers 8,000 miles away, where technicians read from a script in attempting to answer customers’ questions—cost-saving for sure, but detrimental to customer satisfaction.

Privately held companies, on the other hand, are accountable first and foremost to their clients. Free to take a long-term view of their business, they invest heavily in research and development. They also invest in their technical support teams—funding adequate staffing levels and ensuring that they receive ongoing training to keep them at the forefront of technology. The result is often lower turnover and a more experienced, higher-quality staff, which in turn results in superior customer service and happy clients.

EMR Ratings: A KLAS Act

This week, KLAS released its first EMR Performance Report that organizes results according to the specialty of the rating provider. Although the publication of “Ambulatory EMR by Specialty” came on the heels of my posts last week—titled “One Size Does Not Fit All” in EMR Straight Talk and HIStalk—the timing was purely coincidental.

I want to commend Mark Wagner and Kent Gale for taking on this new approach to analyzing and reporting the data they collect. I have had numerous conversations with KLAS on this subject over the years, urging them to report by specialty for all the reasons identified in my posts, and they clearly recognize the value of this type of information. This effort by KLAS was a major undertaking, and the result represents a significant breakthrough in the way the EMR industry provides access to information.

For any specialists looking to adopt an EMR, the KLAS report “Ambulatory EMR by Specialty” is a must-read. It contains information that is vitally important to informed EMR decision-making.

The data raises some interesting questions and implications. In next week’s EMR Straight Talk, I will share some initial observations.