The medical community has embraced technology in every form with one major exception: patient records. It’s only a matter of time before EHR is an ingrained part of the healthcare industry, and just as common as an X-ray or MRI. If you’re planning to implement an EHR system in the near future, here are a few things to consider:
Determine Your Needs
Before shopping for an EHR software package, determine your actual needs. With a list in hand, you won’t be dazzled by a slick package that provides expensive bells and whistles you’ll never use while leaving your most basic needs unsatisfied. Here are a few things to consider when making the list:
- Set a budget including software charges, hardware expenses, installation cost, training expenses, user support and maintenance.
- Are you willing to purchase new hardware? If not, make sure the new EHR system will run on your existing equipment.
- What features do you need? Do you want a stand-alone system or one that will integrate with other healthcare facilities, insurance companies or local health departments?
- Will you have a need to access information remotely?
- Are you willing to allow patients to access their own records?
- Will you request a government incentive to help defray the cost of the system? If so, carefully review the requirements.
- Would a medication lookup system complete with potential side effects and drug interactions add value to your operation?
Pick the Right System
Prepared with a checklist of requirements, evaluate the available EHR systems. Start by reviewing the information on each software provider’s website, but only use this information to narrow down your choices. When spending this much money, insist on a sales call.
Ask for a demo instead of a PowerPoint. If possible, request an on-site test drive to try out the system on a machine. Try to choose a system that fits your standard procedures, instead of trying to force your office to fit the application.
Remember, if the company isn’t helpful before you write a check, they won’t be any better after they receive payment. Don’t forget to ask about support. Who do you call if you have an outage? If possible, choose a company that has 24/7 live support with a hotline.
Create an Implementation Plan
Once you’ve purchased a system, create an implementation plan. Unless you moonlight as a software developer, you probably won’t get your hands dirty with this one, but you do need to know what to expect. Here are a few things to ask:
- When does implementation take place? Off hours or while patients are present?
- Will the office need to be closed for the implementation?
- Is any new wiring, cabling or other hardware required?
- If installing on existing hardware, will it disable the current system?
- What happens if the implementation takes longer than expected?
Plan for Challenges and Opportunities
No software implementation is without its own set of challenges and opportunities (that’s a PC way of saying bugs and problems). Never expect it to run smoothly or on schedule. If they do — and sometimes it happens — you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Here is a common list of EHR implementation pitfalls:
- Lack of planning for the data-entry effort needed to create accounts for each patient and enter all historical records.
- The system creates non-standard forms that are hard for other providers and organizations to work with.
- Not expecting the new system to have a steep learning curve and be harder to work with before it gets easier.
- Lack of communication between the staff, the implementation team and the software vendor.
- Underestimating the scope of the project.
- Viewing the new system as a solution to an underlying problem instead of a tool.
Don’t Skimp on Training
Plan on giving your staff enough time to learn the system. If possible, bring a trainer into the office to conduct a hands-on instructional session followed by a few days of on-site help. By thoroughly preparing your staff to use the new EHR system, you’ll not only guarantee their buy-in but ensure you have an office that runs smoothly with fewer mistakes.
Many healthcare giants, like Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, have failed at implementing an EHR system simply because the staff and physicians practicing at the hospital didn’t want to use it. Without support by the very people who have to use the EHR, even the best system with the smoothest implementation is bound for failure.
Upfront planning and realistic expectations can help an EHR implementation project go smoothly. Sufficient training and employee buy-in are definite musts for an efficient operation as your office moves forward.