Posted By Hope Alfaro On April 6, 2017
Selecting and implementing a new Electronic Health Record System(EHR) is, and should be, a great task for any size public health department or community health center. On average, transition to a new EHR will take a public health department approximately 8-12 months. Some organizations may take less time and others more; it all depends on preparation and planning.
Typically, most organizations concentrate on step 3, selecting the right EHR. Of course, every step is significant but step 2 and even step 4 are more important areas to focus on. Without these two, no EHR solution can come close to being the right fit.
Public health departments, FQHC’s, Community Health and Behavioral Health Agencies all have various needs regarding EHRs and they are all slightly different. Being ready to move forward is still the first step in making it a reality. It will take a lot of effort and staff time to prepare, plan, and execute the transition. First you must know that it is time to leave your current system or move to an EHR from paper charting. Be ready to commit time and effort and allocate the right staff for the job.
It’s Time to Plan
Planning is one of the most crucial factors of this project. Make sure to assign a key, tech-savvy project manager to lead the program. This person will be instrumental to keep the program on schedule, keep the staff up to date, and ultimately know the right system when the time comes. It is important to understand your needs before searching for an EHR to make sure you are looking for the right systems before booking any demonstrations. Will you need sliding fee scales? What sort of programs does your organization have? Are you hoping to connect to your state Health Information Exchange? Are you hoping to receive 2016 Meaningful Use incentives? What sort of reporting will you need? Will you need to sync your dental software or migrate patient data? These are important questions to consider and research before seeking out EHR solutions so that you know you will not be wasting your or the vendors time.
Without a doubt the most central piece of step 3 is to conduct demos with the top 3 vendors. Allow as many staff members to attend these demos to insure buy-in of the final selection. Set up specific scenarios and ask each vendor all the same questions. And finally, use a decision matrix to rank your top selection. Before committing, make sure to see the system live. Ask the vendor for references and go check them out. Remember that the cheapest system might not serve all of your needs and will ultimately cost more if you have to switch again in a year or so. Consider what is included in each quote you receive to make sure there won’t be any hidden fees in the future.
Training and System Prep
Once the EHR selection is made, it is imperative to get as much on-site training as possible for your users. Some vendors provide on-site training while others provide online training. Understanding everything that the new system is capable of will take time to learn, so engage as much as possible initially and take advantage of all ongoing training opportunities available. Users should use this time to practice with test data often as his will set the staff up for success. Also during this step, it is critical to migrate the data you need into the new EHR. For a seamless transition, spend time to find out which data elements are available and which you actually need to convert.
Implementation and Making It Yours
During go live, your EHR vendor should be ready and onsite with you to handle any unforeseen issues. This will allow for corrections and avoid staff using workarounds during implementation. Meet daily with the users and communicate with the vendor. Make sure to keep staff moral up and engage everyone in this process. Audit your workflow where necessary and understand any modifications to the system you may need moving forward.
Continued Quality Improvement
During the first few months after go-live, regular user meetings will help fine tune the system to the department needs. Take advantage of these meetings to learn best practices from other departments already using the system, and any user focus groups or online training sessions that are available. It will be important to continually adjust the workflow for best alignment and peak performance with your new EHR. During this time, you should also take advantage of on-going training and expect reliable customer support with any issues that may arise due to new needs or user error.
While switching to a new EHR is an extensive undertaking, having the right tools and the right plan can make it significantly less daunting. Knowing what you need and creating a plan for success will help you look in the right places for an EHR vendor that can suit your unique needs.
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