Posted By Ashok Mathur On January 30, 2015

The 6 must-haves for an easy to use EHR for Local Health Departments.

With the federal mandate for adoption of an Electronic Health Record (EHR), one has no choice but to move to an EHR. All medical practices must move to meaningful use compliance and local health departments are not exempt. We know that local health department professionals are good at what they do, but not all staff is necessarily good with computers. In addition to being federally certified, the number one requirement is to make sure that the EHR you chose is easy to use. Practically speaking, how do you know an EHR is easy to use?


If you’re not already using an EHR system that improves your department workflow and are looking for better options, consider these six points when you are conducting a search for an EHR.


  1. Is the EHR Easy to install and administer? A lot of health departments do not have big budgets to install expensive servers. Additionally, even large departments do not have dedicated IT staff to manage and administer a server-based system. So, make sure the EHR is a web-based EHR. This means that your users only need a desktop or laptop computer and basic internet connection (no VPN) to use the EHR.
  2. Is the EHR Simple for users to use? Most medical clinic staff are good at what they do but are not necessarily computers savvy. So, you want to make sure that EHR screens are not cluttered with too much non-essential information. For example, can each user personalize their screens so that they only see what they need to see? Similarly, each user needs to go to only 2 or 3 screens to do their job. With too many tabs to navigate in an EHR, nurses can easily get lost and not be able to focus on patients.
  3. Is the EHR Intuitive so users can learn quickly? Most public health professionals are not trained computer gurus. However, these days a majority of your staff, in their personal lives, are on the web (e.g. going to Amazon or Facebook) and using smart phones and apps (like Candy Crush). So, if the EHR system uses familiar web prompts and patterns, they can learn quickly and easily. On the other hand if the EHR is from 1980s or 1990s (before internet), it will be difficult to learn. Ideally, the EHR should be intuitive (web based and with apps).
  4. Is the EHR Intelligent and eliminates dual data entry? If you are a local health department, your staff is probably entering identical data in multiple systems and on paper. This, of course, increases workload and, worse still, reports are never easy to get. If the EHR can auto-populate data fields, it can provide a complete view of a patient and comprehensive (unduplicated) reports.
  5. Is the EHR Sophisticated and yet simple to use? Modern technology can be easy to use and yet provide very sophisticated functionality. For example, Google™ learns each user’s behavior and offers favorites. The more you use Google™, the more it remembers previous and common commands and options. We all know nurses hate to type the same thing over and over again. Does your EHR have Google™-like Auto Learn and Auto Suggest technology? Such technology will allow clinical staff to dramatically cut down typing (e.g. of allergies, medication, frequently seen symptoms etc.).
  6. Is the system Purpose-built for your local health department? For public health this matters. A lot. Since all public health departments rely on state and federal funding, they have to play by the rules. Your EHR system should incorporate all the programs (e.g. immunization, communicable diseases, child health, family planning etc.), scheduling flexibility you need, numerous sliding fee scales, and state and federal reports. To avoid having to spend lots of time customizing your EHR and workarounds, make sure the EHR works out of the box to meet your needs and is not a DIY EHR nightmare. The EHR should evenly incorporate with daily work-flow, and it should connect with other providers including health information exchanges, immunization registries and syndromic surveillance systems. Given that funding is very tight in local health departments, make sure the EHR you get is federally certified and you get CMS EHR incentive $s to help offset the cost of a new EHR. In other words, it should work for you specifically, according to your needs.


To make sure that your staff will use the EHR, make sure it is easy to use. If it is too cumbersome, the staff will not use it. Having fancy bells and whistles in a system is not what you need. What you need is a practical system that works for you with all the public health bells and whistles!

About Ashok Mathur

Ashok is passionate about public health. He works collaboratively with public health departments, sharing his insights on the benefits of app technology and cloud services for EHR use. He is the CEO and co-founder of Patagonia Health, an Electronic Health Records (EHR) software company focused on the public health sector.