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EMR Implementation & HITECH Act Blog

A blog for doctors and medical office staff seeking assistance with EMR and the HITECH Act.

10/26
2009

Phases of an EHR Implementation: Steps to Building Success

Construction_of_the_Eiffel_TowerThe reality of electronic health record (EHR) implementation draws closer and medical staffs are ramping up.† They wonder:† what impact will this have on day-to-day practice?† Some health care professionals tapped as project leaders are already planning the steps necessary to set up an EHR system.† They’ve realized that an EHR implementation roll-out will take time and the investment of a team to coordinate the entire system.†

The EHR system must be a benefit rather than a burden to the medical office.† It’s not an easy task ó as a best practices article published in the American Medical Informatics Associationís Annual Symposium Proceedings in 2006 indicates, only about 50% of EHR implementations are successful.† Averting failure requires the proper alignment of people, processes and technology.

To achieve an effective EHR implementation, adoption can be organized into three phases, each of which has three steps.

Phase I: Organizational Phase

The initial phase of an EHR roll-out charts the course and gathers the people and technology needed to carry out the EHR implementation.

Step 1 ó Planning
The planning step involves gathering (and possibly hiring) staff members who will participate in setting up the EHR system.† Planning also involves identifying the needs of the users and casting a general vision of how the system will be used in the medical office.† Although this step may seem less intense or time consuming than other steps, shortcuts or ineffective planning can have consequences that aren’t easy to fix later in the time line.

Step 2 ó Identifying an EMR vendor
Finding an electronic medical record (EMR) vendor that will work with you, providing both user and technical support, is essential.† Shopping around for the right company to match your needs is an investment for the long-term success of the EHR implementation.† The information in an EHR system are too valuable for a medical practice to jeopardize with a company that lacks experience.

Step 3 ó Installation
Whichever EMR company you choose, they should handle the installation of the hardware and software as well as ensuring the integrity and security of a network that must be accessible 24/7.

Phase II: Construction Phase

The construction phase begins with a heavy emphasis on learning the software and builds up to the launch of the system.† During this phase, the focus should be on the details as the system is fine tuned and tested.† Additionally, it is during this phase when the conversion of records takes place.

Step 1 ó Customization
EMR software alone will not be enough to meet the needs of medical staff.† Optimization of the EMR software means creating templates, hammering out protocols, and communicating with doctors and staff to ensure that the system provides the right information in the desired way.

Step 2 ó Testing
The system must be tested and tested again.† Remember: anything that can go wrong, will on a long enough time line.† Fixing what is fixable and being prepared for what isnít will improve the user experience.

Step 3 ó Conversion
As part of an EHR implementation, all paper medical records will need to be entered in the system by converting them to digital records.† This step may involve temporary hires.

Phase III: Operational Phase

The operational phase includes not only the launch of the system but also the ongoing support provided to staff and users.† This phase never actually ends as training and maintenance will continue as needed.

Step 1 ó Launch

A successful launch of the EHR system is contingent upon the effort that went into the first two phases.† Getting the system live may take more than flipping a switch, so be prepared to contact your EMR vendor for assistance.

Step 2 ó Staff Training

Integration of the EHR system into the day-to-day procedures of the office involves training.† Since the system has been customized for the practice, it is best if the training is conducted by designated staff members who know your particular system well.† Remember, it’s not necessarily those who know EMR software in general who will be best able to train your staff — training needs to be as customized as possible.

Step 3 ó Maintenance and support

Ongoing technical maintenance will be necessary to keep the EHR system healthy.† Over time, how the practice uses EHRs may shift or change dramatically.† Itís important that support, both by internal staff and the outside vendor, is ready to help when a problem arises.

Overall, an EHR implementation may initially seem like a daunting task.† Hopefully, following these steps will help medical offices avoid the common pitfalls that have contributed to EHR failure in the past.

David Hill
PC Healthstop Blogging Team

Image source: This is a freely licensed work, as explained in the Definition of Free Cultural Works.