EHR Countdown: The future is here

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Welcome to the first installment of this new monthly column "EHR Countdown." The topic of electronic health records (EHRs) and electronic dental records (EDRs) will become more prominent and important as the year progresses, and we want to help you be prepared for the many changes that are coming.

Healthcare IT expert Michael Uretz.Healthcare IT expert Michael Uretz.
Healthcare IT expert Michael Uretz.

The U.S. meaningful use program, commonly referred to as "the EHR mandate," has been a driving force behind the rapid adoption of EHRs in medical practices this past year. Although the mandate is not applicable at this point to most dental practices, it has sparked interest in the dental community by those who see the migration to electronic patient records as inevitable. The universal interest in improving clinical efficiency and patient care also is accelerating EHR adoption.

The purpose of this column is to help dental practice owners and the entire dental team better understand the challenges and benefits of selecting and implementing an EHR/EDR system, and the steps they need to take to ensure they will be making an EHR/EDR purchasing decision that will deliver the most benefit for practice and patient alike.

I come to as a 30-year IT veteran and an expert in EHRs and healthcare software. Over the past decade, as executive director of the EHR Group, I have helped hundreds of individual practices and multiclinic groups properly evaluate and select their EHR and healthcare software solutions, structure and negotiate contracts, and provide vendor management and oversight. I am excited to have this opportunity to share my experiences and lessons learned with the dental industry.

I am also the founder and editor in chief of, an online resource designed to help dental practices in the evaluation, selection, purchase, acquisition, and implementation of new generation dental software and electronic dental records. As a member of the ADA's work group on EHR interoperability and clinical information exchange, I am helping develop guidelines for clinical information exchange between systems.

As this exciting new technology evolves and takes hold, we can expect to see innovations in electronic prescribing, integration with evidence-based treatment planning and protocols, electronic referral management, clinical data exchange between practices, workflow and task management, health maintenance alerts for overdue procedures and exams, and many other innovations that will dramatically improve clinical and administrative efficiencies.

To gain a true understanding of the potential impact of EHRs and EDRs on the average dental practice, we also need to look at this in the context of dental software, technology integration, government regulation, and collaborative healthcare -- all issues I intend to discuss in this column over the next 12 months.

Here are some topics I intend to cover:

  • "EHR versus EDR: What's the difference?" (or is there one?)
  • "What's the meaning of meaningful use?" -- An explanation of federal EHR mandates, financial incentives and reimbursements, and as it applies to dentistry
  • "Lessons learned from a decade of medical EHRs" -- How dentists can avoid the EHR pitfalls experienced by other healthcare professionals
  • "Sensible vendor selection" -- How to evaluate EDR software vendors
  • "Smells like team spirit" -- How to get the whole dental team on-board in selecting, implementing, and using an EDR system
  • "The collaboration catalyst" -- How EDRs may prompt a new wave of collaboration between healthcare professionals
  • "Pros and cons of Web- and cloud-based EDR software" -- Along with the promise and benefits of the cloud comes new concerns and issues
  • "What to look for in an EDR contract" -- Too many practices just accept the one-sided contract they're given without understanding the ramifications
  • "Data dilemma" -- How to maintain control of your patient data

I will also develop columns based on new developments on the EHR front and in response to questions submitted by readers.

I look forward to writing this monthly column and hope it encourages some lively discussion. If you have any questions, feel free to send them to me directly at [email protected].

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