Find the right health IT consultant — or face the consequences

by Anne Zieger on September 30, 2010

If there was ever a year of health IT consultant, this is it. Hospitals and medical practices are scrambling to put EMRs in place, while keeping their existing systems alive, and their existing IT staff can’t do everything at once. Small medical practices may subsist solely on consultants already – they seldom have IT staff on board – and those folks are VERY unlikely to know how to select those with EMR-level skills.

So, how can providers choose the right provider? Here’s some tips from enterprise software analyst Shahid Shah. Shah specializes in healthcare IT, with an emphasis on e-health, EMRs, data integration and legacy modernization. (For those who aren’t into deep tech, assume that the man’s a regular health IT Swiss Army knife – and a good one.)

*  Start with the Health Information Technology Extension Program

As part of the stimulus bill, the government funded the creation of Regional Extension Centers. They offer consulting and tech support to help speed up adoption of EMRs.  RECs help you decide which products to buy, negotiate price reductions and offer tech assistance for implementation. Visit one and see what you can pick up.

* Know consultant types, and what they do

–  If you’re trying to get government stimulus funds, you may need a Meaningful Use consultant, Shah notes.  That person can understand how your practice or facility works and how to meet MU standards.

– EMR consultants are a good choice if you’re trying to decide which EMR to buy, as a good one will be familiar with hundreds of packages.  Watch out, however, for consultants who work for a vendor; you should find out in advance of the consultant has financial ties to the vendor.

– Integration consultants are an important resource in making sure your medical data can be shared freely throughout your practice or facility, as well as with partners and the government.  Even if you have a great IT department, you may still need help, as integration is a tricky matter that calls for specialists.

No matter what you do, you’re likely to have to make some painful decisions, and no one of them can tell you what’s best for you long term.  But it doesn’t hurt to check in with guys like Shah before you get rolling – this is definitely a “better safe than sorry” situation.

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