Baby, You Can Drive that Vendor Demo

Use these five tips to get more out of EHR and PMS demos.

You’ve probably noticed that most electronic health record (EHR) and practice management system (PMS) vendors don’t seem to know anything about your specialty or your practice when they give you a demo.

Typical examples include: a sales rep showing an orthopedic group documentation examples of diabetes and gout; a solo practice forced to hear a litany of advantages about the vendor’s multiple provider scheduling; or a neurosurgeon daydreaming through that exciting, just-released weight loss app on the patient portal.

Good news: You don’t have to take these generic demos sitting down. You, the practice manager, or the physician, can drive the demo. With a little prep work, the outcome will be a lot better.

Create a Vendor Script to Set the Tone

Are you looking for clarity about how the PMS handles the posting of pre-surgical deposits? Want to know if visit templates for hammertoe, rotator cuff injury, or physical therapy already exist in the EHR?

Take the time to create a “vendor script”—a set of structured questions and requirements that you send to a technology vendor prior to scheduling a demo. An effective vendor script includes five basic elements:

  • Practice profile
  • Business problems you want to solve
  • Minimum requirements
  • Top 10 “must-see” features
  • Off-limits list

Not only does a vendor script improve the effectiveness of a demo, it provides a structured way to compare each demo you schedule, using an apples-to-apples approach. Here are five tips for creating a vendor script that drives a better demo.

1. Send the Vendor a Practice Profile

Based on KarenZupko & Associates’ hundreds of technology demos with physicians and practice managers, it’s rare to find a sales representative to take the time to learn anything about your practice prior to the demo; and most of them don’t ask for critical information they should include in the demo. They simply dive right into a generic show-and-tell that doesn’t address your practice’s needs and concerns.

To remedy this, you can provide vendors with a single-page practice profile. If you find that the sales representative knows a little something about the practice during the demo, you’ll know the profile was read. If you get the standard, high-level demo everyone else gets—well, that tells you something about the vendor’s willingness or capacity for building customer relationships. This is a good indicator of the customer service and support (or lack thereof) that the practice can expect from the vendor after you go live.

On the practice profile, include the practice’s address, phone, website address, specialty, number of physicians, staff, and the number of office sites. Include a contact name for follow up, as well as the person’s direct phone number and email address. In addition to these basics, provide a list of the technologies you currently use—PMS, EHR, reminder software, patient portal, automated callback systems, etc.—and a brief background about your technology situation. For example:

“We’ve had three different practice management systems since 1999 and none of them have integrated with the EHR. We first implemented an EHR in 2007. In 2011, we began implementation of a new EHR that was supposed to integrate with our current PMS, but the implementation was halted due to a variety of factors. We aren’t looking to duplicate that experience. We need an EHR that seamlessly integrates with our current PMS (which meets our current needs very well).”

2. List the Business Problems You Want to Solve

Don’t make this complicated, but do think about the high-level objectives you have for the technology that’s being evaluated. Indicate to the vendor what’s important to your practice by defining problems you’re trying to resolve.

For example, you might indicate:

Our practice is working to:

  • Improve the efficiency of surgery scheduling and the paperwork involved
  • Reduce the number of no-show appointments
  • Reduce account receivables through better patient collections processing
  • Automate reminders for patient appointments, tests needed, balances due, etc.

When the vendor is aware of the problems you want to resolve (as opposed to only the features you want to see), the sales representative has a context of how the technology’s features can be used to meet your unique needs.

3. Put Your Minimum Requirements in Writing

Include a written list of minimum requirements for features that the vendor must deliver to have a chance at getting your business. Having these features “in your head,” or in the physicians’ heads, isn’t good enough. Create a written document that is reviewed and updated at least once a year, as your practice grows and technology evolves.

The document is often several pages long, but the time you spend developing it will save hours of wasted time sitting through demos with vendors who can’t meet your practice’s basic needs. For example, if the six surgeons in your group have a voracious appetite for iPhone apps that drive many aspects of their practice and daily communications, but a vendor only offers integration to Windows OS mobile devices, why schedule a demo at all?

Examples of minimum requirements:

  • Appointments and patient account data can be accessed from iPhone or Android.
  • The EHR has two-way integration with our PMS.
  • Batch eligibility verification generates a daily report of non-eligible patients.
  • Inventory management data is updated in real-time.
  • On-site training is available for staff and physicians.
  • The vendor has a minimum of 10 customers in our specialty.

Your time is valuable. The physicians are busy. If a vendor can’t deliver on at least 90 percent of your minimum requirements—the features you really, really need—don’t schedule the demo.

4. Create a Top 10 Must-see Features List

Get input from physicians, nurses, front desk staff, billers, coders, managers, and other office personnel to create a list of the top 10 features they most want to see in an EHR. Put it in writing and update it once a year.

For instance, the billing team may need to see how payer reimbursement schedules are stored and if there is an automated task manager to keep them on top of out-of-network collections. Physicians may want details on how many clicks it takes to e-prescribe, and whether that feature is available on a mobile device. The administrator may want a sample view of several key reports. Draw on the minimum requirements list to come up with the top 10 features you absolutely, positively must see during the demo.

Savvy practices also add a real life flavor to the scenario. For example, send a few de-identified chart notes to the EHR vendor and ask them to code the charts using their product during the demo. The results will indicate the efficiency of documentation workflow, as well as whether the coding calculator can meet your coding standards.

5. Give the Vendor an Off-limits List

Telling a vendor what you don’t want to see during the demo is as important as telling them want you do want to see.

If you don’t specify what’s off limits, the vendor typically will follow its standard demo script, which usually presents just a brief overview of the product’s capabilities, and frequently isn’t relevant to your specialty or practice. For example, if yours is a solo practice, tell the vendor you don’t want a soliloquy about the advantages of its resource-based scheduler and how it can handle multiple sites and providers. That would be a waste of your time.

Likewise, don’t spend valuable time evaluating basic features—such as appointment scheduling and registration—or you’ll risk running out of time before you see what you really want to see. You might tell the vendor:

“We assume you have appointment scheduling and registration. Don’t show us how to schedule an appointment or walk through all the registration fields. What interests us is the quality of your reporting, the patient portal features, and how the batch eligibility verification process works.”

Your off-limits list should be clear and polite:

“Because we only have one hour for this demonstration, please do not show us these basic features:

  • How to schedule an appointment
  • The layout of fields on the patient registration screen
  • How to post a co-pay”

You may also want to tell the vendor that if the features you’ve specifically asked not to see are included in the demo, the demo will be over.

A quick “yes” to every vendor-offered demo is a disruption to your day, and not the best use of your time. Plan ahead: Use a vendor script to keep technology vendors on their toes, improve the value of the demos they deliver, and enable apples-to-apples product comparisons.



Cheryl Toth, MBA, is a senior practice management and digital media professional who helps practices use technology to work smarter. She brings 20 years of consulting, marketing, training, software product, and executive management experience to her projects.

John Verhovshek

John Verhovshek

John Verhovshek, MA, CPC, is Managing Editor at AAPC. He has covered medical coding and billing, healthcare policy, and the business of medicine since 1999. He is an alumnus of York College of Pennsylvania and Clemson University, and a member of the Asheville-Hendersonville AAPC Local Chapter.
John Verhovshek

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About Has 393 Posts

John Verhovshek, MA, CPC, is Managing Editor at AAPC. He has covered medical coding and billing, healthcare policy, and the business of medicine since 1999. He is an alumnus of York College of Pennsylvania and Clemson University, and a member of the Asheville-Hendersonville AAPC Local Chapter.

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