by Paul Reckas
Whether you have already chosen or still deciding on an EMR software solution, it is never too early to start thinking of hardware and supporting services. This is a critical step to a successful EMR transition. Choosing the right hardware, network design, and IT support partner will allow you to maximize the outcome of your EMR investment. We have prepared this guide to help you understand what hardware and services are needed and how to make the best choices when selecting them.
Before you even decide on what hardware and services to buy consider the following:
Plan for the future
Your EMR vendor has most likely supplied you with a minimum set of requirements for your equipment. Those requirements may be adequate for the EMR to function smoothly now. But what happens a year or two from now? As time goes by, your EMR provider will continue to evolve your software solution. As more improvements come along, they will most likely require more computing power and memory from you computers. So, what may be deemed as adequate now, a year from now may cause your computers to run slow or even stall. Plan on getting computers that exceed the minimum requirements set by your EMR vendor. This means invest in more memory and faster processors. Planning ahead will allow you to use them for a longer period of time without the need for costly upgrades in the future.
Over time your practice will also require more and more data storage capacity. Think of it in the same terms of your old paper medical records. Over time you will need more shelves and storage space to store your medical records, billing files etc. As you store more and more records, it takes more time to file them (as you need to find more space) and more time to find the records you need (as you need to sort through a larger volume of items). Similarly you will need to plan for extra digital storage capacity for your electronic folders containing your electronic medical records and clinic’s data. If your storage reaches its capacity it can significantly slow down your network performance making it troublesome to access your files. With added data storage capacity your network will run fast and efficiently at all times.
Consider digitizing your old paper medical records. This can be done by engaging a company specializing in records management. They will scan all your old records and organize them in electronic format that will be easily accessible through your EMR. It is a small investment in time and money but for sure it will pay off soon by increased efficiency.
Protect your network and data
Your network and data are you most valuable asset. You need to take precautions to protect them not only from a potential natural disaster but also from cyber threats and malicious software.
Protecting your data from natural disasters will require a back-up solution. This can be in the form of a cloud solution where your data is automatically saved over the internet at a service provider’s location or a solution of saving your data in a storage medium (ie disks, tape etc.) and then storing it in an alternate location.
As EMR systems are open to the internet you also need to take precautions against hackers and malware. This will require the installation of a firewall, which is a system that will keep unwanted intruders out of your network, the installation of virus protection software, and the use of encryption when transmitting data over the internet.
Choose an IT support company
For most clinics, hiring a full time IT support person does not make financial sense. The best option would be to hire an IT support company specializing in health care. Not only they can help you build the IT infrastructure you need to support your chosen EMR solution, they can also provide you support when needed. Many offer monthly support plans which is in essence like having an IT person at your disposal at a fraction of the cost.
One added advantage is that IT support companies could save you a significant amount of money in hardware procurement. As they deal in volume purchasing, they get preferential pricing which can be passed on to your implementation savings.
Choosing your hardware
If you have not spent time familiarizing yourself with computer technology, creating a list of equipment needed to run your EMR can be a daunting task. We have put together a list of equipment and services along with explanations to help you with your planning and understand how each equipment completes the EMR hardware solution puzzle:
This is the heart of your infrastructure. IT connects all your practice’s computers with each other, the EMR, the internet, and even medical equipment. A well set up network will be fast and efficient as well as safe against intrusions and computer viruses.
You may decide to have a hardwired network meaning all computers are connected via cables to each other or wireless or even a combination of both. A hardwired network is more reliable and efficient but requires your computers to be “plugged in” meaning it is hard to move them around if needed. Wireless access is great if you want to use portable computers such as laptops or tablets allowing you the freedom to move around freely.
This is a computer where other computers connect to for accessing files, other programs, and services, as well as enabling communication between them. If you have chosen a “local” solution EMR, it will require a server on which the software will run from. A local server could also be used to run your fax services depending on your EMR or store your medical records.
VPN or Virtual Private Network allows you to access your network remotely i.e. from home or a hospital. It is a great feature that allows you to access your work from virtually anywhere you can find internet access. All that is needed is the proper configuration of the equipment you will use, such as your laptop or home computer.
Most common workstations in a clinic will be the reception, billing, exam rooms, and nursing stations. Each computer at these work stations will need to access different parts of the EMR and use a number of other peripherals and software. You can choose to use laptops for added mobility or desktops. A great solution are the all in one desktop computers where behind the monitor all the computer components are housed. This saves space by eliminating the need to have a separate monitor and tower. Use of wireless mice and keyboards can reduce clutter by eliminating the need for more wires.
Although there is a monitor, mouse, and keyboard for this computer there is no “computing” taking place at this setup. It is just a remote terminal where one can enter, view, and manage data and application which are processed from a central computer also known as a server. This can be a great solution for large clinics requiring a number of work stations or clinics with multiple locations that want a centrally managed system.
Scanners & Printers
If your workflow requires the scanning of a large number of documents then a high speed scanner is recommended. Otherwise, you can use a Multi-Function Device allowing you to scan, fax, and print at the same time. When it comes to printers there are many choices depending on their use. Before deciding on what to buy, thinking of of how you will use a printer can save you a significant amount of money ie you can select an inexpensive black and white printer for your exam rooms if you only want to print instructions for your patients).
A number of other devices can be used to make the most of your EMR including label printers, card scanners, or even medical devices.
In conclusion, selecting the best combination of hardware for your EMR is a critical decision that can significantly impact the success of your EMR transition. We strongly advise to use the same diligence selecting your hardware as you used when selecting an EMR solution. Hiring a reputable IT support company that has experience in EMR implementations can be a great a value to you, saving you a lot of headaches, and ensuring a successful migration from paper to EMR.