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Incorporating an EHR into Your Practice’s IT Picture

eligibilityverificationThe pressure is on for practices to implement electronic health record (EHR) systems. Whether a practice is focused on meeting federal mandates such as Meaningful Use, or workflow and care quality benefits, an EHR presents significant changes for a practice’s workflow.

Getting the most value from an EHR involves more than just purchasing the right system though. You also must implement, integrate and use it with your other technologies. An EHR essentially becomes the “epicenter” of your practice’s IT infrastructure, so keep in mind that your EHR is the first step of information entry before it gets sent to your practice management system and clearinghouse. Thus, you should ensure maximum performance from each and as a whole.

This major assessment can’t be done overnight, of course. It requires a well thought-out strategy. Typically, that strategy should include:

  • Planning. Staff from all areas of the practice should be involved in the evaluation and implementation process. Build a team that includes physicians, nurses, medical assistants, practice administrators, billers, schedulers and IT staff. Their ground-level insight into how systems work—or don’t—is essential to ensuring you get the desired benefits from all of your IT systems. Once the team is established, its first task is to determine exactly what goals the practice wants to achieve from its EHR implementation. (One tip: Document internal benchmarks that quantify those goals before implementation. Use them for comparison afterward.)
  • Selection. With the practice’s overarching goals in mind, start looking for the right EHR. Lists of reputable vendors are available from professional health IT organizations and specialty societies, as well as KLAS® research. To help comply with Meaningful Use and other mandates, it’s best to narrow your search to EHRs that are CCHIT-Certified® 2008 or greater. Also, understand that cheaper isn’t necessarily better; an EHR that doesn’t have the functionality to meet current or future goals may end up being more expensive in the long run. So, clearly define your requirements in your Request for Proposals, and follow up any vendor demos with site visits to practices currently using each system.
  • Negotiation. No matter who negotiates your EHR contract, be sure your practice’s objectives are met. You’ll want full disclosure of: all costs; implementation plans; available training resources; long-term service and support options; and more. Negotiate in a spirit of collaboration though, and start developing a genuine partnership approach to the implementation process.
  • Implementation. Don’t fall prey to the common decision to skimp on training. That mistake is often fatal to an implementation project and ends up being more costly than training would have been. Having tools that are not used to their fullest capability or correctly may turn a good investment awry very quickly.

After EHR implementation, it’s critical to determine whether your IT systems are working together to actually achieve the goals identified at the beginning of the process. Compare post-implementation data against the benchmarks you collected earlier, but don’t try to assess success or failure too soon. Setting expectations too high too quickly often results in nothing more than frustration. An EHR won’t save time or improve revenue and patient care immediately, but through periodic benchmarking, your progress gradually should become clear.