In my previous post, I introduced five strategies to maximize a healthcare practice’s approach to implementing and maintaining electronic health record (EHR) systems. As a quick review, those five strategies are:
- Vendor communications & partnerships
- Training, Training, Training
- Workflow optimization and the use of shortcuts
- How to turn IT into a “utility”
- Technology oversight and governance
In this post and subsequent posts, I’m taking a deep dive into each of these strategies, one by one.
Strategy One: Vendor Communication & Partnership
When a physician practice adopts an EHR system, there are many things for the office management to learn. Some of these items to learn may be confusing for professionals who are not information technology experts. This point in time is where a strong relationship between buyer and vendor is extremely important. In fact, that relationship can often determine the success (or lack thereof) of the EHR system.
According to a report by research firm KLAS Enterprises, EHR vendors play a crucial role in increasing the usability of EHR systems. One study interviewed 163 healthcare providers. That study revealed that the more the product developers are involved in the EHR system implementation, the more success healthcare professionals experienced implementing the technology into their workplace. This finding is important to note, as some medical providers have reported that EHRs are difficult to use. Poor vendor relations can prevent complete EHR system adoption and use within a practice.
“Nobody said that things are perfect,” said Colin Buckley, director of research strategy at KLAS, quoted by Modern Healthcare. “Anybody that writes the check has the right to complain. But we specifically targeted in the report the medical leadership who looked at the big picture. It wasn’t about their personal preferences, but was [EHR] efficiency good enough to accomplish the task.”
Before You Make The EHR Purchase
Before purchasing and implementing an EHR system, healthcare professionals should make sure that a solution will meet their own needs. HealthIT.gov recommends that you completely understand whether a certain product will accomplish the key goals of your practice. It may be helpful to provide vendors with specific patient and office situations before investing in a solution. The more a vendor knows about your practice’s operations, the clearer it will be when a solution is a fit.
It is also important to take into consideration total costs, server options, whether a product can integrate with your practice’s other solutions, and available privacy and security controls. Data security should be a top priority among healthcare professionals. As everything goes digital, it may be harder to keep track of patient data. Without the necessary safeguards in place, patient information can be at risk of being compromised.
Someone Must Take The Lead
If the vendor doesn’t take the bull by the horns and initiate an implementation timeline, the champion within the physician’s office should ask for a timeline with dates of expected completion. Below are some questions practices ask their vendor during the implementation planning process:
- Will my workflow need to change to maximize the use of the EHR or new technology?
- Do I need to have the new hardware installed?
- Who installs and supports that hardware?
- How about training?
- Who’s my vendor contact person?
- What services do you provide after we go LIVE?
- What cyber security concerns should we address?
After the EHR go-live stage, the EHR system will be transitioned over to the practice’s internal staff and the vendor’s support teams. Below are three principles that will contribute to a successful EHR implementation.
- Successful practices have one person or a small team focused on being the “owner” of the EHR system.
- Prevent multiple avenues of communication between the practice and the vendor, which streamlines communications for the EHR vendor.
- Determine a regular, timely communications schedule for the future.
What’s Next After Your EHR Is Up and Running?
The communication between the vendor’s team and your practice’s EHR team will ebb and flow through these stages of that relationship:
- Evaluation – expect a high level of responsiveness prior to the sale
- Purchase – your main point of contact should walk you through this process and make it as easy as possible
- Implementation – setting up any IT system is different than using it, and implementing anything as large and complex as EHR will take time and have hiccups
- Support – the longest stage of the relationship begins the day the system goes LIVE
Once a practice has established the vendor support relationship, it’s good to have an understanding of the vendor’s plan for future enhancements and upgrades to their product. Vendors should know their development cycle for the next release or two.
That same single point of contact or small group at your practice can coordinate how well the system is doing and can understand the challenges the practice is experiencing. It is that person or team’s job to constantly communicate that status to the vendor’s support team. If the vendor doesn’t know you’re struggling, they won’t know anything is wrong. When it comes to addressing challenges with EHR technology, healthcare providers should not hesitate to approach their vendors with any questions they may have. A regular meeting of the two teams can help avoid frustration and prevent your team from doing things incorrectly for a long period of time.
Practices should seek out “disruptive vendors” — those vendors working on the innovative, edge of mainstream technologies. These firms typically have lower gross margins, smaller target markets, simpler products, and more focus on their customer. Though the products and services may not appear as attractive as existing solutions, the cost is often cheaper when compared against larger, more established companies.
Many businesses have developed software tailored to suit specific specialties or to operate with less robust features, lower development costs, and reduced operating overhead. As a result, they are able to offer their products at a better price point to specific buyers than their larger competitors, so shopping for the right solution can save money.
Regardless of your choice of product, as with most things in the business world, the relationship that your practice establishes with your chosen vendor is crucial to the success of both the implementation and the long term viability of your EHR system.