EHRs are industry requirements for a reason: They make physicians’ lives so much easier. But the industry isn’t void of challenges. Simply ask the many practices that consider switching EHR vendors because they’re not satisfied with service or features. There’s also the probability of your practice changing so much that you outgrow one package and need new, more relevant one.
Here’s the challenge that all these healthcare professionals then face: Will their EHR vendors provide them with patient data in an understandable, usable format?
Unfortunately, for many, the answer is no.
Option 1: Protect Yourself
If you’re reading this before ever purchasing EHR software you’re in the privileged position of being warned. The best way to avoid your patient data being held hostage is to make sure your contract protects you. Unfortunately, this isn’t always very clear at first.
Contracts’ legal jargon can be confusing and you may think you’ll have full access to the data, only to realize the truth later. Here’s what you need to discuss in detail with the vendor and have your lawyers check before you sign:
– Does the vendor have the right to withhold the data from you?
– Who has ownership of the data? These days many different terms are used in the industry. Technically the information belongs to the patients while both you and the EHR vendor will be stewards of the data. The vendor may use this as the reason that they have as much right as you to host and block access to that data. Only sign with someone who is willing to release the information to you when required.
– In what format will the data be? If you need to migrate it to another system, you’ll have endless problems if the data isn’t in a usable format.
– Discuss what the vendor is allowed to do with the data. A contract may stipulate that a vendor can re-identify the data and use it for research. Make sure what they request falls within HIPAA guidelines.
This thorough vetting protects your interests in the future, but also the privacy of your patients.
Option 2: Rethink Your Situation
If you’re already using EHR products you’re probably a bit nervous now: Will your vendor hold the data hostage one day when you get ready to switch platforms?
It’s best to do your research now so you can prepare for what’s to come. Also realize that there may be different requirements when you decide to stop the contract early, compared to using the EHR software until the end of the period mentioned in the contract.
Go Over Your Contract
Start off by going through your contract in detail and get some legal experts to assist you. For the same reasons mentioned in the previous section, you need to look for stipulations that can be problematic in the future:
– Will the vendor provide the data?
– Can you request the data in a usable format?
– Will there be additional costs involved to obtain the data?
– How much will it cost if you want to switch vendors before the end of the contract period?
Can You Renegotiate?
Based on what you’ve learned you can plan more effectively for the future. If you’re staying with your current vendor but don’t like all you read in the contract, ask your vendor for changes. To retain you as a customer in the extremely competitive industry they may be open to suggestions.
Specifically, ask them to make it easy to export information going forward. Discussing this well ahead of time means you won’t be pressed for time and forced into a new contract simply to keep your practice running. You’ll have time to deliberate all options.
Plan for What’s to Come
Based on what you’ve read and your discussions with your vendor you’re now able to make decisions well ahead of time. This may include:
– Find someone that can help you extract data in a usable format from the information your vendor will send you. This is often necessary since vendors’ data is recorded in a format only their software can access. Know that you may have to pay additional fees for this service if your future vendor is willing to help you with this.
– Look for a new vendor that won’t give you the same problems in a few years’ time. An important discussion point will be the possibilities of migrating your old data to their system and whether their technicians can help with the process. Don’t accept their promises that this is a free service; the moment it’s more complicated than they expect (see the point above) they may start asking payment for their effort.
– If applicable, save up money for the payment to get your data in order to migrate it elsewhere.
The important thing is to find out exactly what your vendor thinks your rights are regarding the data so you can take the necessary legal or practical actions.
Option 3: Managing the Current Scenario
But what if you’re already in the midst of such a fight for the data you thought was yours all along?
Outright refusal to give you access to the data is technically against HIPAA regulations. The vendor must have a good reason for keeping it from you.
Understand that vendors’ obstinacy in these situations relates to them losing customers and revenue. Now they’re using the data as leverage. Therefore, in many cases, they simply expect reasonable payment.
If you did sign a contract that gives the vendor rights to the data the shortest route would be to pay the fees or end up with months or years of legal battles. It’s worth paying a lawyer that’s an expert in these procedures. He or she can serve as a mediator, making sure you don’t pay more than is necessary.
You may not realize that your EHR vendor is keeping your patient data hostage until the day comes that you want to switch service providers. Do yourself a favor and find out the truth now. With adequate planning, discussions, and compromise you may find a resolution that suits all parties concerned.