How to Implement EHRs the Right Way

For about five years we have been talking about Electronic Health Records (EHR) that will eventually bring the healthcare industry into the industrial age. To encourage adoption, the government has provided incentives along with deadlines.

However, EHR mandates have penalties for those that do not meet deadlines for implementation. It’s all about proving “meaningful use” and if you couldn’t in 2015, Medicare reimbursement would have been reduced by 1%. The deduction rate will increase year after year by a percent (so 2% in 2016, 3% in 2017, etc.)

To avoid all the penalties, medical professionals need to implement a software system over a period of two to four months followed by six to eight months of workshops and training. The key to efficient implementation lies in the perfect execution of an EHR implementation plan.
EHR implementation is not as straightforward as it seems, especially for smaller practices. With medical errors being the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer, as well as costing a whopping $19.5 billion, EHR is getting harder to ignore. By January 2015, 8 in 10 office-based physicians had adopted EHR. This trend is rapidly getting popular, so here’s how to ensure successful implementation:

1. Perform a Readiness Assessment

Understand where you stand. Is your practice ready for EHR? Scrutinize your practice to certify it can cater for EHR and benefit from EHR.

Are you financially and technically prepared for EHR, are your staff on the same page? This is the first step and the most critical step of the implementation process. The management and planning choices that are made during this stage will be vital.

2. Establish your Objectives

What do you expect from the system? You have to ask yourself that and ascertain whether EHR can take your business to the next level.

As a rule, don’t skip the small details, get your staff well-coordinated. Leadership and project protocols need to be identified and clearly communicated with all staff and their input accounted for. Your business and financial goals should be defined by this stage.

3. Carve Out your Approach

Now that you know WHAT to do, HOW do you got about doing it?

Again, let your staff have a say, get them involved with prioritizing the objectives and goals. By now, your EHR implementation plan should be ready. This will essentially define the expectations and needs of the organisation.

Chart your current and potential workflows. Ensure that you have a contingency to fall back on as EHR is not suitable for everyone. I can’t stress enough that privacy and security concerns need to be identified and managed on a regular basis (this is crucial, so always keep tabs on it).

4. Find a Compatible EHR System Vendor

Although a minority, some institutions select an EHR system and then conduct planning in accordance with their system of choice. A smarter option would be to develop your own plan, identify your goals, and then use the selection criteria choose an EHR system that fits closer to your needs.

There are a number of vendors working on EHR systems, so it can be a lot easier to investigate the different options that are available. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a vendor, the obvious and most important ones are like price, implementation support, security, privacy, as well as data migration and integration with other products.

Carefully review vendor proposals and “test drive” at the least 4 or 5 of your options and highlight what your office staff are most comfortable with. Best way to determine the best option here is to prepare questionnaires for both your staff members and the vendors.

Are you looking to build your EHR system from scratch and in need of professional assistance with specification, PoC, prototyping, software development and QA?

5. Training

While most vendors offer training programs along with their products, the key here is to ensure training is practice-specific. So any training that takes place must be moulded specifically to their organisational role (role-based training).

One-on-one training, mock “go-live,” simulators and plenty of other resources are readily available. EHR is human-resource intensive and effective leadership from advisory groups is a must to ensure clinical usage of EHR.

Back-up plans are also important as neither your staff nor EHR systems are fool-proof. The transition is not easy for everyone, therefore management needs to be patient and understanding (while managing the expenses incurred during training).

6. Evaluation

Know that the process does not definitively end after implementation. Rigorous testing of the system should be undertaken for a period of months to identify bugs and eliminate them. Feedback from the staff, patients, testing data, and system reports should be cascaded to safeguard the continual development of the system.

Most importantly, ensure that meaningful use is well documented.

7. Further Development

As technology improves, the scope for advancement of EHR systems will increase. As a result, documenting your workflow productivity is extremely useful.

Are you staff and patients satisfied?

Is it financially viable to continue using EHR for your business?

Constantly asking these questions will help with the evolution of EHR systems. Not all EHR systems turn out to be what they were planned to be during the implementation stage, so there might be more work to do than what was originally expected. It's assessment and performance enhancement that will one day lead to a perfect EHR system, until that day arrives, we have to work relentlessly to bring the healthcare industry to the digital age.

Have you implemented EHR in your practice? Share your thoughts in Comment section below.

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