Posted By Monique Dever On November 2, 2015

Conducting a workflow analysis for public health departments: Will your EHR vendor perform this for you?

In a previous blog we talked about how an EHR can help streamline your workflow and improve operations. Here we are going to focus on the process and workflow itself. Adopting an EHR does not automatically change your workflow. So what needs to be done to reach peak efficiency and what are the best practices that can help guide you there?

Apart from making sure that the selected EHR meets your specific needs (e.g. public health focused EHR link this to, you need to make sure that the EHR vendor helps you improve workflow. Workflow study of current processes is a starting point. This can be performed either by the agency staff (if you have expertise) or by the EHR vendor. Then workflow improvements can be discussed to ensure a streamlined workflow which improves patient care while increasing efficiencies. Sadly, a lot of EHR vendors drop their EHR (in a cookie cutter manner) rather than take the time to learn and help you improve your workflow. Without improved workflow, you do not get the full benefits of EHR.

Changing to a new EHR is a good time to review your existing workflow and look for opportunities to tweak and improve. Paper charting would have required a different workflow. Additionally, over years, sub-optimal workflows or workarounds may have creeped in. This is an optimal time to revisit and enhance. Whether your agency is converting from paper charts to an EHR, or shifting from one electronic system to a new EHR, change will ultimately affect the whole agency. But change doesn’t have to be difficult, provided you meet change head on, and pave the way for a smooth transition.

Adopting a new EHR the right way, with workflow analysis in hand, will certainly improve the flow of patients through your facility. Identifying who the participants are, mapping out the current workflow of your staff, and outlining what steps are taken throughout the process, is all critical information in mapping out a new workflow for a new system. During this workflow analysis, all areas of the department should be considered, from patient check-in all the way through to Billing, covering all clinical and clerical positions. If your agency does not have the expertise to do workflow analysis, make sure the EHR vendor you select will be willing to perform this function for you.
Each health agency operates differently, so it is important to find out what will work best for you. outlines some helpful tips to get you started:

  • Identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies in your current workflow. Decide which aspects of your workflow need improvement and prioritize them. Then do the work in stages, creating wins along the way.
  • Experiment with a new workflow in small ways, or test different ways of doing a task to identify what works best in your practice. Try using the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) method.
  • Listen to your staff. What sounds like resistance is often valuable information about a process issue.
  • Use standard workflow templates to get started and visualize how the work gets done. Then customize the templates to show the process works in your practice.
  • Of course, the process improvements do not stop with EHR Go-Live; make sure EHR vendor provides on going optimization assistance either individually or via user focus groups.

When implementing a new EHR system, it is imperative to communicate routinely with your new vendor. If you are still in the process of selecting a new EHR system, make sure to select a vendor that is responsive to your specific needs. Document the whole process and provide reference guides for your staff. Include your staff in the changeover process, keeping them informed along the way of all upcoming changes so they can train and adjust accordingly.

After the changeover is complete, re-analyze your new workflow process and tweak if necessary. This process will help maximize departmental efficiencies, improve care to patients, and maximize the capabilities of your new EHR system.

About Monique Dever

Monique integrates research and networking with her passion for health and well-being to provide important, up-to-date news, resources and current events to the public health communities. She is the Marketing Executive for Patagonia Health, an Electronic Health Records (EHR) software company focused on the public health sector.