EHR Implementation: Strategies for a Successful Start

Given the sheer volume of health care legislation passed in recent years and the possible difficulties in communication between information technology departments and the clinicians who will be using the technology, it’s not surprising that the prospect of implementing an electronic health record (EHR) system can feel daunting. Consider these strategies to help make the transition a successful one.

Keep the emphasis on patient care. Between Meaningful Use requirements and the move toward value-based reimbursement, it’s easy to think that EHRs are all about regulations and the bottom line. But the true purpose of EHRs is to improve and inform patient care through easier access to information and better communication with the health care team. “That does get lost sometimes,” notes Richard Baron, MD, president of the American Board of Internal Medicine.

Visualize the possibilities. Before you get mired in the technical details of the implementation, think about how easier access to information might benefit patient care. Are there ways you can integrate the EHR into an office visit? For example, can you show your patients their lab values to demonstrate how medications are working? Would showing parents a plot of their child’s growth curve help them understand the importance of staying active and following a healthy diet?

Get inspired. Focusing on how technology can improve patient care can also help inspire physicians to persevere through the tough transition. One of the best ways to discover the power of today’s technology is to see it in action or hear what other physicians are doing with their systems. Seek out advice from physicians who have successfully integrated EHRs into their practices or attend presentations on the topic.

Keep workflow front of mind. There’s no better way to ensure success than by making sure you or another doctor is involved in technology decisions. “The most successful implementations I’ve seen… start with getting the end users to identify problems they have in their current daily workflow,” says Baron.

“One of the fears you hear consistently from physicians is that the effect will be to push work that has been done by others back onto the physician,” says Baron. This might include typing, order entry, and coding. This fear is not unfounded, but physicians can take preventive action by thinking through how technology can affect workflow.

Prepare for the transition. You’ll either have to put in more hours or see fewer patients during the first few weeks—maybe longer—while you’re getting up to speed on the new system. Some practices temporarily reduce patient load or leave one 15-minute slot per hour to allow for the extra time it will take to catch up on documentation.

Because decreased patient load can translate to a dip in income, consider giving physicians the option to put aside a bit of their salary in the months leading up to the implementation to even out the cash flow while they’re in the thick of the transition.

Settle in for the long haul. Just as you’re never finished learning as a doctor, you’re never really finished implementing an EHR. But once you’re through the first few months, the benefits can multiply.