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How to Keep Your EMR Project Nimble

How long do you think it would take you to implement an EMR system in your practice?

3 months? 6 months? A year?business-juggler.jpg

Of course, this is a trick question. First, you have to define when the actual project starts. Is it as soon as you make the decision to go paperless? Is it as soon as you have purchased the software? The hardware?

If you aren’t already using EMR, you are no doubt feeling some pressure from Washington to get with the program. After all, there is some serious money coming in the form of incentives in the next couple of years. Although, you can most certainly spend some serious money on the endeavor, especially if you don’t plan properly. With a reported failure rate of 30-50%, EMR implementation will be one of the biggest jobs your practice will tackle.

In our case, the timeline was more like three years. Granted, we could have pushed to meet the original goal of eighteen months. But, the arrival of two new partners – and two hurricanes – pushed this back. In subsequent articles, we will discuss the mechanics of the actual rollout. But for now, we will stick with the planning process. That’s the part that most practices fail to do, and which ultimately is the main cause of failure.

Some of these things may have been mentioned before, but I will summarize all the steps of a proper implementation of your EMR project:

  1. Perform a needs/wants assessment. What exactly are you looking for in an EMR system?
  2. Set up an EMR committee. This should include key players from different aspects of the practice: doctors, nurses, medical assistants, administration, billing, and of course information technology (IT).
  3. The EMR committee should come up with a check list for an ideal EMR system based on #1. What are ‘must-haves’, ‘would-like-to-haves’, and ‘neato-cool-wish-list’ features?
  4. Based on #3, come up with a short list of EMR systems, interview and demo them, check references, perform due diligence, and then make your choice.
  5. Consult with a certified project manager. Check out the Project Management Institute . You may think you can’t afford one, but the truth is you probably can’t afford not to. Alternatively, ask your EMR vendor for some recommendations. The last option is to have your IT person or consultant to run the project – but this person should have some experience with project implementation, not just IT.

The project manager, or your staff member who has been trained to be one, will set up your project in a dynamic timeline known as a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). This tool has the ability to adapt to changes in your schedule which will undoubtedly occur. By contrast, a schedule set up on a traditionally rigid calendar can easily be scuttled by a minor setback – this is a perfect opportunity for the naysayers to voice their “I told you so’s”.

For the do-it-yourselfers, use the tool the professionals use for producing your own WBS, mind-mapping software. The gold standard is MindJet’s MindManager. Although there are some less expensive or even free products out there, this is the most robust and the files are ubiquitous.

However you do it, don’t do it alone. And take the time up front to plan properly. This way, your project can roll with the punches instead of rolling over dead.

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