Guest Post: Katie Matlack
As I settle in to my role as Medical Software Analyst at Software Advice, I’ve begun to wonder: What separates those who realize the benefits of an EMR from those who don’t? What are the critical success factors that can help ensure a practice’s switch to EMRs is truly transformational?
To find out, I spoke with representatives of three healthcare organizations where EMRs are in place:
- Ian Kornbluth, Licensed Physical Therapist and owner of Neurac Institute and Therapy Solutions, two private practices in New Jersey.
- Hal Daugherty, Practice Administrator at Mobile Heart Specialists, a five-physician cardiology practice, in Mobile, Alabama.
- Jeanette Christopher, Information System Teams Leader; Amanda Trujillo, Quality Management, Site Manager, EHR Implementation Chair; and, Samantha Walker, Medical Records Team Leader, at Northwest Primary Care Group, a 26-physician group in Portland, Oregon.
Here are eight pieces of advice they shared with me.
1. Get Input From Your Doctors
Before you commit to switching to a particular EMR, secure buy-in from the doctors on your team. How? Solicit feedback on features they want in their EMR. Ask what’s important to them about the system they will use. In the experience of Northwest Primary Care Group in Oregon, the benefits of asking for this input were twofold. It helped them narrow-down what EMRs to even consider. And when they were later in the midst of transitioning, their doctors were on-board because the change was something that they themselves had asked for. With many of the physicians looking to get something like these physician mortgage loans to out their practice and help their patients.
2. Define Who Makes Final Decisions for Your Team
While getting everyone’s input is key for garnering full support for your transition, it’s equally important to define a clear leader of the process. After the group weighs in, this leader will have the final say. The team at Northwest, whose Medical Director played this role, stressed this point. As they explained, “The doctors knew our Medical Director listened to their input, but also knew that the final decision was up to him, and they defer to him.” The takeaway? Spell out who has the final say in advance, and you’ll neutralize time-consuming power struggles and hair-splitting debates before they arise.
3. Sweat the Product Details (Then Get Them in Writing)
Before committing to buy EMR software, hammer out the details of your vendor agreement. This tip came from Hal, a practice administrator of a five-physician cardiologist group converting to a full practice management and clinicals suite. Hal, who ended up working with Oberon Medical Solutions, stressed the importance of clarifying with any vendor which modules and product versions will be included in your system. Another transaction-related tip from Hal: discuss–and get in writing–a description of responsibility for your data. If your software provider goes under, you’ll want to ensure you’ll still be guaranteed access.
4. Get Software For Your Specialty (or Plan to Customize)
Everyone I spoke with highlighted the importance of choosing a system that fits your specialty or can be easily customized to fit your practice’s needs. After all, the extent to which an EMR fits your practice will determine how much time your system will allow you to save. The Northwest team uses Vitera, a product flexible enough so a system administrator can make any changes a doctor requests within an hour. By contrast, Ian Kornbluth uses a specialty-specific solution.“The software I use, WebPT,” said Kornbluth, “was built by physical therapists, for physical therapists. Our transition process was pretty easy and painless.”
5. Phase In Hardware Ahead of Software
Learning new software can be daunting. Now imagine trying to do it while not knowing how to work a computer. For some doctors who’re new to computers, the basics of how to access files, join wireless networks, or respond to a frozen screen increases the new technology learning curve. And doctors hate to fumble in front of patients, since this might give patients misgivings about their abilities in other areas (like medicine). That’s why the Northwest team gave their doctors several months to practice at home on the specific computers they’d be using at work.
6. Have a Capable Team Create Your Records
In a paper-based office, each time a patient visits the practice there are lots of new forms to fill out. But with EMRs, you fill out a patient’s basic information just once. That places extra importance on getting the data in perfectly the first time. As Kornbluth did, you might have one staffer responsible for entering patient data and another there to check the data is accurate. It’s also important a qualified team is scanning in your documents when you’re creating those records. The team in Oregon has their regular staff members handle scanning, stressing that only staff with highly specialized training would know where to store information from a paper chart within the new record.
7. Be Systematic About Scanning Documents and Phasing-In EMR Use
Practices typically set a date to start using their EMR with active patient files. This usually means that after that date, patients have their files entered into the EMR as they come in. Most files are created through a combination of manually-entered data and scanned files accessible through the EMR. Your phase-in process might mean doctors use paper charts during patient consultations while nurses later input information from those charts into the EMR. So you’ll need to agree on a practice-wide way you’ll denote what has already been captured in your EMR and what hasn’t. A low-tech way to track what’s been scanned: “We put a diagonal line in highlighter across the front and back of sheets after they had been scanned into a patient record,” said the team in Oregon.
8. Involve Your Patients in the Switch
Patients are likely to be pleased about a system that can free up more time for you to spend with them. They’ll probably also be happy to hear an EMR can help you provide better care. It’s a definite marketing benefit if you get the right information to your patients–just be sure you tell them how their data will be secured, since one of the biggest patient concerns related to EMRs is data security. Finally, it’s also worth planning for how the new system will impact the way your doctors interact with patients. Will doctors need to turn their back to them or look away to use the EMR? Try to set up your machine so it doesn’t interfere with doctor-patient interactions.
(To read the original post, please go to SoftwareAdvice)