When it comes to an EMR, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I could rattle off clichés ’til the cows come home, but you get the point: you get what you pay for. Now this isn’t always the case; there are plenty of fantastic services, experiences, and products out there that also happen to be fantastically free. But these are not the services, experiences, and products that store and transmit your patients’ protected health information. Nor are they the ones that ensure you are fully HIPAA and Medicare compliant. And they are certainly not the ones that help you run a better practice—and receive proper reimbursement. Here are five reasons why a free electronic medical record (EMR) is not all that it’s cracked up to be:

1. Obnoxiously Ad-Supported

Many companies use advertising dollars to cover the would-be cost of their services to the consumer. Just think about a free version of your favorite mobile game. Angry Birds, Words with Friends, and Candy Crush all offer versions paid for by advertisers. And that’s perfectly fine. Often, being unable to proceed to the next level until you watch an OKCupid ad is nothing more than a minor inconvenience—well worth the savings. Contrary to what some serious Angry Bird addicts might say, it is just a game.

But, what happens when the same ad stops you from finalizing your SOAP notes? Or distractingly fills the margins of your documentation system? What would your patients think if they saw your documentation platform speckled with advertisements? Does ad-supported technology scream professionalism or credibility? After all, an advertisement’s job is to sell you—and a patient’s visit is probably—definitely—not the right time for that.

2. Frustratingly Non-Specific

Many of the free electronic medical records on the market today are made for physicians but marketed to the medical professional kitchen sink. That is, for a rehab therapist to use this type of a system, he or she would have to create Band-Aid fixes and workarounds because the system isn’t tailored to a therapy-specific workflow. At first, this might not seem like a big deal, but when you think about how many patients you see each day and how much time you spend documenting, every frustratingly wasted second adds up—quickly. What else could you do with that time? See a few extra patients? Get home to your family sooner? There are a lot of things that sound better than fiddling with a physician-specific system until it—sort of, kind of, almost—works for you.

3. Questionably Unstable

Most companies only stay in business if they can make a profit. Take a look at your clinic, for example: You might love to perform all your sessions pro bono because you know how much your patients would appreciate it, but you can’t. If you did, those patients wouldn’t have you as a therapist a few months down the road when you could no longer employ your staff or pay your electricity bill. So, unless the free EMR company has a very wealthy, altruistic benefactor who just wants to be loved by all (even Santa asks for compensation, albeit in milk and cookies), the company has to—at some point—start bringing in some moolah. If it doesn’t, it runs the very real risk of going under and taking your data down with it—leaving you to start over from scratch.

4. Concerningly Outdated

Without extra funds to spend on updates, new technology, and new staff, it’s quite likely that your free EMR still looks—and acts—like a relic of the ’90s. While you may still get a kick out of DayGlo and side ponies, things certainly have changed since then, especially in our healthcare landscape. If your system can’t keep up with the latest healthcare legislation and documentation regulations, you’re going to be in for a long haul of manual claim submissions and double-checking compliance standards in 500-page government-written documents—and we all know how clear as mud those are.

Shouldn’t your EMR do some of that heavy compliance lifting for you? What are you paying them for? Oh wait, you’re not.

5. Irritatingly Unsupportive

If the company doesn’t have the money to spend on technological advancements and upgrades, how much do you think they’re going to spend on customer support? So what happens when you have a question, a problem, or just want to voice your opinion? You’ll either be left talking to voicemail or getting someone on the phone who might as well be an automated system because he or she doesn’t have an answer. The good EMRs—the ones that constantly evolve, innovate, and improve—are the ones that value their members’ opinions and make themselves available to offer the very best in customer and technical support.

Bottom line: Your documentation is important. It’s how you prove to the world that you are fantastic in your field; that you produce measurable improvements in your patient’s health and mobility; and that you are at the top of your professional game. Choose an EMR that’s worthy of you. And if you have to shell out a few dollars a month for it, that’s okay. Not only are you contributing to the success of a business that you rely on, but you’re also making a statement to the world that the service you’re paying for is a service well worth its price. You shouldn’t settle for an EMR that provides you with anything less.

Do you have experience using a free EMR? How was it? What did you like or not like about the system? Tell us in the comments below.