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Why You Shouldn’t Trust Using a Free EHR (Electronic Health Record) System

Chances are, if something is free, you pay in other ways. There are many free electronic health record systems available online right now, but none of them offer full functionality, customization, and ongoing technical support. Additionally, providers who offer free ECE platforms must make money somehow. This is often achieved through invisible methods including targeted advertising and selling user data, passing costs on to the patient, or offering basic ECE software that will require expensive upgrades later to reach its full potential.

Before looking for a free Electronic Health Record solution, here are some important points to consider.

The Invisible Costs of Free ECTs

Any healthcare organization that chooses to use a free or open source ECE system often must still pay for several elements surrounding the implementation of that platform. Consider the cumulative costs of new hardware and infrastructure, the time and resource costs of actual implementation, and the costs of ongoing maintenance and support – all typically without the support, options and backing of an established vendor. Additionally, indemnification and liability risks that are covered with a traditional provider are not covered by a free ECE system.

Free ECEs Lack Support Service

Having access to any open source ECE software is simple enough, but fully realizing a functional system is not. Implementing an ECE system is almost always a complex process, regardless of the platform used. A big cost of using a free EHR, as opposed to using a system from an established provider, is that there will not be a team of specialists ready to help you, to provide guidance, and to implement alongside you to ensure optimal results.

Many open source programs outside of healthcare benefit from the collaboration of large user communities. But when it comes to healthcare, the community is simply not substantial enough to offer the support needed to address problems and setbacks. Most doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators are too busy and/or lack the technical knowledge to seek appropriate assistance or contribute to efforts to develop online communities for free ECE software.

Very Little Ease of Use or Support for Clinical Decision Making

In general, ease of use and intuitive user interfaces are not well developed or even considered necessary for free ECE solutions. These systems lack clear and understandable buttons, icons, layouts, fonts, and color schemes. These features may seem insignificant at first, but they are actually fundamental design practices that greatly facilitate the implementation, training, ease of use, and acceptance of ECE among users.

Most ECE providers understand the importance of clinical decision support tools to assist in the effectiveness of patient care and to increase patient safety. Open source ECEs are significantly lacking in this area.

If an organization is considering a free option, they should ensure they have access to the following support solutions:

  • Electronic prescriptions and contraindications for medication orders
  • Less reliance on manual text input
  • Reporting efficiency
  • Integration with laboratory and imaging systems

The Different Types of Free ECE

There are many free ECE solutions currently on the market from numerous vendors. A quick online search will return more results than most healthcare administrators would care to review. One might ask, “How do these ECE providers stay in business when they offer their ECE solutions free of charge?” The answers may surprise you.

Advertising Based Model

An easy way for a technology service to make a profit without charging its users is to rely on advertising revenue. An ad revenue-based ECE platform means that your users and doctors will see ads while using the system. This may seem like a minor hassle compared to the cost savings of a free ECE system, but there are significant privacy concerns around administrative and patient data. Laws regarding protected health information are continually changing, and the use of protected health information for targeted advertising can potentially subject you to breaches and other data mining crimes.

Patient Payment Model

Some free ECE programs rely on patient contributions to keep the program free. Essentially, this ECE model requires doctors to request that their patients pay for their ECE system. Patients who are unable or refuse to pay will not have access to all benefits offered by the ECE system. This can create discord among patients and raises ethical issues, as those who are willing to pay more receive services that others do not.E. Examples include blocking prime time on an appointment scheduler or limiting health records functionality for those who don’t pay more.

Pay Per Feature Model

This service model does not rely on ads or asking patients to pay for software. Instead, only a free basic framework ECE platform is offered. The concept is that once you’ve committed to using the software, eventually over time you’ll want the most functional and convenient add-ons, all of which are offered for a fee. This could include robust practice management tools, patient portals, billing, scheduling, reporting, etc., all at additional costs. At first, this option appears to be cost-effective, but it may end up costing much more than it would have if a paid option had been chosen from the beginning.

Is Free ECE Software Worth It?

Few things in life are truly free and they almost always come with conditions. Before committing to any ECE platform, you should be aware of all the factors at play. Think about each process you would like your ECE software to perform and whether that functionality is included upfront or at a later cost.

In the end, it is up to you to decide what type of ECE solution will be right for your organization. While free options may look good on paper, with a little research, you’ll find that they rarely perform as well as advertised. The best thing you can do is learn as much as you can about what an ECE platform offers and whether it aligns with your needs. For more information and to schedule a no-obligation demo, contact our service team to get started today!