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Evaluating the merits of generalized and specialty-focused EHR solutions in behavioral health

When considering the various specialties and subspecialties that exist across all areas of medicine, health care has grown increasingly inward. Behavioral healthcare providers, too, tend to orient themselves around particular specializations. Different practice specialties means different workflows and documentation with respect to niche requirements, so when it comes to technology solutions, practices have a choice: multi-disciplinary, or specialty EHR systems designed for behavioral health?

It is not an easy decision to make, especially given the vast number of options to choose from. Practices wanting to get the most out of their EHR technology need to make the following considerations.

How specific are my needs?

A pediatrician has different workflow requirements than an oncologist. Similarly, a psychiatrist might be interested in certain features (such as e-prescribing) when a family and marriage counselor would not. A good rule of thumb is that the specificity of an EHR solution should match the specificity of the practice’s needs. This is because the less a solution satisfies practice requirements from the beginning, the more it will need to be built out and customized until it does. The process requires the time of account managers, stakeholders, and sometimes even engineers, which can be costly depending on the workload. The temptation for some practices is to go with an inexpensive solution, making up for gaps in software performance by using various workarounds, but this creates strain on the practice’s time and resources that ultimately mitigates any upfront cost savings.

In contrast, a specialty EHR circumvents the headache of designing templates and customizing workflows, as the solution is already relatable to the practice’s needs. Because specialty vendors operate closely within their respective areas of health care for which their solutions are built, they possess domain knowledge which reflects in their products and services. Practices should expect a more tailored user experience, smoother implementations, and stronger customer support.

What are my technical criteria?

While niche specialization is a strong selling point for practices hoping to fulfill unique workflow requirements, it is not an end-all criterion to satisfy when evaluating EHR solutions. Plenty of vendors promise to be great for a given specialty, only to fall short on technical requirements. Practices need to be cognizant of how the underlying technology of the product will support critical areas of daily operation. For example, how well are documentation and content supported? Are medication management, assessments, and clinical measures up to par? What kind of reporting tools are available? Is the solution able to support state and federal regulatory requirements? Specialty EHR or not, if a technology solution isn’t able to cover the practice’s basic technical requirements, it won’t be a good fit.

Can I count on the vendor?

The goals of technology vendors can vary, and depending on what those goals are, the practice may be setting itself up either for long-term success or disappointment. Is the vendor, for instance, positioning itself to be acquired by investors? If so, what sort of consequences would pass down to the practice? Consider also the vendor’s track record and reputation. While it is entirely possible for an up-and-comer to produce high-quality solutions, being able to gauge the past success of a more experienced vendor will say a lot about what to expect. What is the behavioral health community saying about a particular vendor? Does it have a high customer retention rate or high net promoter score? When vendors are able to demonstrate strong retention metrics, it is invariably the result of a strong commitment to their customer bases.

Whether to go with either a multi-disciplinary or specialty EHR solution will depend on the practice’s circumstances. Understanding how a solution (and the vendor that provides it) aligns with the practice’s interests and depth of specialty will help to ensure practices get the most out of their EHR technology for years to come.

Interested in seeing how a specialty EHR can assist with your practice’s needs? Valant can help! Click the button below to schedule a product demonstration.