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EHR technical support

EHR technical support

How to get the best results from your EHR technical support

I’d like to talk about EHRs and technical support. I’ve spent many years in the tech industry, testing software and addressing bugs. I’ve worked with end users, client representatives, developers, and tech support people. And I’ve seen many examples of how the process of reporting a bug or an issue can go very well or very poorly.

It turns out that there are some simple things you can do that will greatly improve your chance of getting a speedy and successful resolution. Before I describe these, let’s try to understand the mindset of the tech support person.

The majority of bug reports submitted by end users look something like this:
“Feature X is broken and when I try to use it, it doesn’t work and I get an error message. Please help!!!”

Now, when the friendly tech support person gets this message, the first thing they will do is pull up their standard testing environment, and run some basic tests to try to reproduce your bug. For any engineer, this is an absolutely critical first step. In software it is virtually impossible to solve any problem if you can’t reliably reproduce it on demand.

Unfortunately, very frequently, this first round of testing will show no errors and from the engineer’s perspective everything appears to look just fine. They will send you back a message stating that they were unable to reproduce your problem. This is very frustrating because now you’ve waited through one whole round of support cycle, and accomplished nothing. The support team isn’t trying to be unhelpful, they just can’t isolate your problem based on the initial description.

In most cases, the problem is not that some huge feature of the software is totally broken. The problem is that, in your usage, you have managed to stumble on what is known as an ‘edge case’. These are things that are definitely bugs, but the circumstances required to trigger them are somewhat rare, so it doesn’t happen very often. This explains why the support person was unable to solve the problem on the first round; they just didn’t know how to trigger that edge case you found.

In many ways, this process is very similar to a rare condition or a tricky diagnosis that you might see in your practice. The true nature of the patient’s problem does not become apparent until you have received and reviewed all of the relevant details.

With software, the solution to this problem is to learn how to submit high quality bug reports. The key is to give the tech support person every bit of information they need in order to reproduce your problem, so they can launch down the path of solving it. There are two principles to doing this properly. Following these principles will add maybe five minutes to your process of submitting the bug, but they will greatly enhance your chances of getting a rapid and successful resolution.

The first principle is to provide plenty of details.
You want to describe the exact set of circumstances that triggered the error. If it is a web based application, you should note your operating system (Windows/Mac/Linux) and web browser (Internet Explorer/Chrome/Firefox/Safari). You will definitely want to supply your specific user account name, a patient ID (if possible, in HIPAA compliant way), and any other relevant details such as a specific drug or lab order describing what you were trying to do.

The second principle is to submit screenshots.
With a couple of keystrokes, you can produce an image file that is a picture showing exactly what has happened on your screen. Screenshots are invaluable in this process, because they are the definitive proof of your experience. And, like, the details in the first principle, they make it easier for the tech person to reproduce your problem. The best strategy for screenshots is to take one at the instance where your error is occurring. If you are receiving an error message of any kind, make sure that your image captures it. Once you have a satisfactory image, you can attach it to your email with a detailed description.

If you don’t know how to take a screenshot, click here for a website that has a screenshot tutorial for almost any operating system.

The support person who receives your request will be delighted to receive an informative and well documented problem description. By supplying critical details the first time, you will save them considerable effort in trying to reproduce the problem. This will lead to a speedier diagnosis and resolution for you. Everybody wins! The next time you find yourself needing to request help from your EHR company, please try these two techniques and let me know how they work for you.

Finally, if you’re really struggling with some persistent tech support issues relating to your practice management software, drop me a line at bobo.mdc@gmail.com or 503-997-2402. I will help you get that resolved.

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