Electronic Health Records


EHR vendor contracts and the gag clause

By [email protected]

In my first blog post for EHRintelligence, I wrote about the correlation between training and user satisfaction when it comes to electronic health records (EHRs) and meaningful use. The people at AmericanEHR published a good study about this topic. Like most people with a background in research, I took a particular interest in how AmercianEHR had collected their data, and something disturbing jumped out at me.

The authors noted that responses of some participants may have been impacted by the “gag clause” in their EHR vendor contracts.  In the Data Collection, Evaluation and Reporting Methodology section of the findings, the authors indicated the prevalence of these clauses: “The presence of a ‘gag clause’ (designed to prohibit purchasers and users of EHRs from sharing information about software problems with anyone outside their organizations) included by many EHR vendors in their contracts may have also negatively affected the response rate.” Gag clause? Really?

This was truly a wake-up moment for me. In this day and age, there is no place for this sort of language in an EHR vendor contract. The whole thing seems downright suspicious.

Here’s a piece of advice: If your current or prospective EHR vendor asks you to sign a gag clause, chart a course away from that vendor immediately. Ask yourself what it is that the vendor wants to keep under the radar and out of the public eye. Chances are this vendor’s product has performance, stability and usability problems, or all of the above. Look for a vendor that is transparent. Seek out physicians that are using the product you are considering and ask them their opinion of the product. Review online HIT message boards and blogs that track or compile vendor feedback. Don’t rely on the vendor’s referral accounts; they are probably genuine, but they are also probably best-case examples.

Think about it. Most of us use Facebook, Google, or LinkedIn on a daily basis.  Imagine if Facebook had a gag clause?  Openly complaining about the latest upgrades to Facebook is expected, even welcomed behavior — by Facebook! Ditto for Google.

A gag clause may represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the level of cooperation your EHR vendor offers. What about data liquidity, for instance? If the company won’t let you talk openly about its product, then what would they have to say when asked about the availability of YOUR data in their system? Also, ask about how easy it is — or isn’t — to walk away from a vendor. What if six months in, it just ain’t working?

When you’re ready to sign a contract with an EHR vendor, be wary of any language that stifles or restricts your ability to function and communicate freely. The more transparent and accommodating your vendor, the better off your practice will be in the long run.

Steven Ferguson was appointed to the position of Patient Management Officer at Hello Health in 2011 where he spends his time blogging, managing inbound marketing and event management. From 2008 to 2011, Steven served as the Vice President of Product Development at Myca Health, Inc., the parent company of Hello Health. From 2004 to 2008, he served as Senior Product Manager of Cardinal Health Clinical Services and Technologies, responsible for managing point-of-care medication administration and clinical documentation applications.

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