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Navigating an EHR Implementation

Implementing an EHR, or Electronic Health Record, and practice management system is a substantial commitment that involves a lot of work throughout the process and potentially a lot of changes for everyone in your pediatric practice when it is done.

The first thing you will need is a motivated attitude, especially if you are undergoing an implementation while your practice is still up and running. There will be extra time and effort involved, above and beyond normal job duties.

What does this process look like, and what should you and your staff be ready for?

What is involved in an EHR implementation?

At its simplest, an EHR implementation is a series of tasks, steps, and milestones that take a practice from their old system to a new one. Your practice may be coming from a paper system, a partial EHR for some systems, or transitioning between EHR providers. Regardless, the process involves the same steps, some the practice is responsible for, others the EHR provider needs to handle.

They include:

  • Gathering Documents: Practice records and documents as well as existing patient records (if applicable) need to be transferred to the EHR provider, so they can take the next step.
  • Building your Practice Database: Your database must be populated with the information from your practice, and this is done by the EHR provider and then verified by you.
  • Training: Your EHR company should provide you with training materials and even trainer-led sessions, but it is your responsibility to provide employees of your practice (and yourself) with time to take the training or go through training materials.
  • Practice: Besides the formal training, your practice employees will need to take time to run various scenarios through your new system to see how it works in real-time, what new workflows will look like, and so they can adjust to the new system and processes.
  • Customization: As you discover your specific needs, your EHR should allow you to match those processes and the things unique to your practice. As every practice is different, this is an important step, and one that can improve the day-to-day efficiency of your new system.

Preparation is key. The more prepared you and your practice staff are for this process, the smoother things will go.

Why is it important for providers to be engaged?

On both sides, there needs to be someone coordinating efforts. The EHR provider will assign someone from their company to assist with the implementation process, and they will be your point of contact. However, you will also need someone in your practice assigning tasks, coordinating training schedules, and more.

Ideally this is a lead provider or the office manager, but that is not always the case. It should be someone who is engaged and enthusiastic about the project, has some tech knowledge or even EHR experience, and who volunteers to coordinate things on the practice side.

Of course, things are not always ideal, and often another provider or someone in the practice will have to step into the role. This “quarterback” will have to delegate tasks, hold people responsible, and implement a reward system for all the work ahead. The ability to motivate others is key.

The ultimate goal of any implementation is that it is both stable and successful. The keys to this outcome are attitude and communication, both of which come from the top down. Employees will notice how you embrace the project, and they will emulate your attitude.

Keeping open communication and ensuring that everyone is in the loop with progress and what is coming next is vital. You must understand and act on communicating with employees through the right channels and at the right time. The middle of a busy workday may not be the best time for an impromptu meeting, announcement, or group lunch. Remember, everyone contributes to the overall success of an implementation and should be kept updated on overall project status as appropriate.

It is important to realize that you don’t know what you don’t know. Through open communication and a good attitude, you can discover what you are good at as a practice or even where you might struggle and could use assistance or adjustments. You may even discover new process flows and efficiencies along the way.

Why is early understanding important?

As you begin the EHR implementation process, an early understanding of your entire practice will help you navigate pain points your staff may have.

Individuals will likely fall into one of three groups:

  • The Enthusiastic Adopters: those who love technology and see how this system will help them.
  • The Hesitant Adopters: those who are reluctant and wary of change, and may even be concerned about the future of their job under the new system but do understand the overall need for the change.
  • The Don’t Want To: those who don’t see the value of a new system, and who will be very resistant to change.

Set expectations of what change will look like. Help employees understand that automation will make their jobs easier, but that an EHR is not a magic bullet that will do everything for them. Communicate what an EHR is capable of and what they can expect.

The key is to be prepared and head off frustrations. This will prevent employees from reverting to old habits or former and potentially inefficient workarounds just because they are more familiar.

EHR implementation is not easy, and it is a process that you need to buy into early. But in the long run, an EHR will make your practice more efficient and profitable. Understand what you are getting into from the start, and ensure that proper preparation makes you aware of the road ahead and ready for any challenges you may face. Remember that your big-picture goal is to provide the best, most comprehensive care for your patients.

Rich Szabo, MD
rszabo@officepracticum.com


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