Free EMR? Reading Between the Lines

As the healthcare industry gears up for the next stage of meaningful use standards, a lot more is expected from physicians of all specialties alike. Although the number of physicians adopting EMR technology is increasing by the day, there are many who have apparently complied with meaningful use requirements by fulfilling the bare minimum requirements to achieve their incentives. This is one of the reasons why the popularity of ‘free EMR’ is growing; however many clinicians fail to realize that products advertised as free, only provide elementary clinical functionality rather than a holistic solution. Therefore, even with a ‘free’ application you will require supplementary modules of practice management and patient portals to actually derive any genuine benefits. Apart from the hassle of maintaining two or more separate devices, the fact that you end up paying for any additional application makes the argument of opting for a ‘free’ EMR intrinsically flawed.

Stage 2 of meaningful use will be in full flight as 2014 approaches, and while it comes closer the race for complying with its guidelines will begin as well. The second stage of meaningful use imposes the use of patient portals as mandatory for qualification in regards to their incentives. This will render the current format of ‘free EMR’ virtually useless since it does not provide the adequate functionality to comply with the fresh requirements of stage 2. Similar to any industry, the health IT industry is also focusing on the consumers (patients) as providers become more sensitive to the requirements of their patients.

During its annual meeting in December, ONC reviewed its overall performance for the duration of the year. Farzad Mostashari – National Coordinator for Health IT proclaimed, “If we thought healthcare was just fine, we wouldn’t be here today. We don’t have all the answers. We can do together what none of us could do on our own”. Particularly focusing upon the next step of interoperability, a lot of emphasis was laid upon the improvement of current solutions and the provision of support for the adoption process for physicians across the nation. The manner in which the government wants to encourage the adoption processes is to endorse technologies such as patient portals, in order to bridge the communication gap between clinicians and patients.

Mr. Mostashari goes on to say, “I’m sorry to say we’re barely started. We can get so much better. We have to get so much better. The number of doctors adopting EHRs is increasing, and more of them are using technology to meet objectives that will help them improve care for their patients. There is still more work to do before the full promise of health information technology is met.”

By now, the alarm bells really need to sound for providers who are throwing caution to the wind and adopting the so called ‘free EMR’ upon hearing this emphatic speech by the National Coordinator for Health IT. Surveys have indicated that patient management and coordination improves by leaps and bounds with the implementation of patient portals, which subsequently leads to greater patient satisfaction. And no wonder, it becomes a lot easier for patients to schedule appointments, have secure access to their health information and electronically communicate with their physicians from the comfort of their homes. It saves both time and money for patients, as well as doctors. Hence, the health IT industry simply cannot progress without the incorporation of patient portals and practice management within EMRs. Without doubt, patient portals have made their mark in the industry and are here to stay.

Originally posted on December 14, 2012 by Frank Quinn

Over the past twenty years, Frank Quinn has contributed significantly on standardizing, interconnecting and institutionalizing care delivery through health IT, helping eliminate barriers to accessibility, quality and adoption. EMR, practice management, eRx, patient portal, medical billing, compliance, privacy and security are his areas of expertise. For more information, please contact Frank at

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