Are You Ready for an EHR?

Lea Chatham February 21st, 2013

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Have you been putting off implementing an electronic health record (EHR)? Or do you need to make a conversion to a new system that meets your needs better than what you have now. Whether you are starting from scratch or converting to new EHR, it can be daunting. Here are four simple questions to ask yourself to be sure that you are ready for a new EHR:

  1. Are you ready to use an EHR? In the rush to collect meaningful use incentives, many practices overlook whether they have the time or resources to implement an EHR. From time needed to pick the right product to moving patient information to the EHR, EHRs will require physician involvement and may require additional resources to make the transition. This level of commitment should be understood upfront. Otherwise, the goals and plan for the EHR can become distorted or impractical. For example, a number of practices have tried to implement EHRs during their busy seasons, or with reduced staff levels. In other cases, EHR plans have not addressed a lack of computer skills among staff and doctors.
  2. What are your expectations for an EHR? Like anything else, expectations drive the selection of an EHR. Set expectations too low, and the practice can end up with a product that does not have the features needed. For example, the ability to annotate an image is critical for an ophthalmology practice, while pediatric practices need a strong immunization management feature. Practices employing mid-level providers or using collaboration among doctors, nurses and staff to serve patients need an EHR with workflow management tools. The guiding principal is to set expectations based on what your practice needs to be efficient and effective and not just based on your current paper-bound operation. For example, tracking future treatment orders should include tools to help you manage patient contact and not just record the order information.
  3. Will you be able to take advantage of EHR incentive money? Many practices are still not clear on what they need to do to qualify for the EHR Incentive Payments. Indeed, a disturbing number of practices may have attested
    to meet the MU Measures without actually fulfilling the requirements. As a practical matter, implementing an EHR does not mean that the practice has attained the measure standards. Some EHR systems calculate the various measures, but many EHR products require the doctor to check a box for each measure even though the information may not have been gathered. For example, the doctor may check a box that the patient allergies were recorded, but
    actually recording the allergies is on another screen. Another challenge is attaining the Meaningful Use Measures for 90 days in the first year and consistently afterwards. The key issue is that many practices are not allowing enough
    calendar time to attain their practice goals and Meaningful Use. Make sure that you have sufficient time to ramp up to the measures and not focus in on the measures at the expense of accurate records, patient service, and/or physician productivity.
  4. What is a practical plan to implement an EHR for your practice? Many practices reasonably assume that the vendor will drive the EHR implementation effort. That is not in the interest of the practice and not really a service that the EHR vendors provide. EHR efforts must be structured and driven by the physicians and the practice. Physicians cannot cede control of practice operations or clinical decision making to any outside party. Additionally, the practice needs to establish the process that will allow the doctors to build confidence in the EHR as well as become familiar enough with the EHR to work with the EHR while serving a patient. Unfortunately, many physicians attempt to use the EHR without proper training and preparation. Failing to adequately prepare leads to poor patient and physician experiences.

Success is often dependent on planning and setting realistic expectations. This is true for selecting an EHR, but it is also true if you are choosing a new practice management system or trying to manage a conversion from one software to another. For more about preparing for an EHR, switching from one solution to another, and managing data conversions, download Kareo’s new white paper How to Change Your Medical Billing Software.

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