Wal-Mart and Mental Health EMR: Unlikely

For the past week the health IT news world (NYTimes; Chicago Sun Times; MSN; ) and blogosphere (FierceHealthIT; Healthcare Informatics) have been abuzz with Wal-Mart’s announcement that they will begin selling electronic health record (EHR) software to doctor’s offices starting this Spring. They will do so in partnership with eClinicalWorks and Dell through their Sam’s Club stores.  

Our initial reaction was panic. After all, if the world’s largest retailer decides to get into our market space, how can we possibly survive? And what does this mean for our customers?

Then we started reading the fine print. The cost for the first physician in the practice will be $25,000 plus $10,000 for each additional physician. The first year’s price includes hardware, installation, some training, technical support, and a variety of other odds and ends. And that is for software as a service. That means you do not own a license for the software; rather you connect into the company’s system and maintain your records there.  (This is the model that some people believe is the only viable one for a broad national system, but many dispute that.) After the first year, the cost per doctor is $500 per month.

John D. Halamka, M.D., CIO of the CareGroup Health System and Harvard Medical School among many other posts, is convinced that this pricing is fair and that Wal-Mart’s expertise in supply chain management and their own experience with IT systems inhouse will make their coordination of this project a success. In fact, he says that its a “good deal“. 

While this sort of price point might be cost effective and competitive for general and speciality medical physician practices, it is certainly not so for those in behavioral health practices. Most community based behavioral health organizations are also not likely to find this pricing structure something they can build into their budget.

If this is the Sam’s Club bargain software, where does that leave mental health providers? While there are currently a few companies with very reasonably priced electronic medical records (EMRs) aimed at the behavioral health community, time will tell whether meeting the requirements for CCHIT certification and paying to acquire that certification will allow the products of this small cadre of companies to remain affordable.

What’s your take on the Wal-Mart announcement? Where do you see this search for the EMR going for you? 

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