Your practice is taking on an EHR implementation. This likely means you're looking to add to your team to ensure the new system is functioning on-time and on-budget —and that your clinicians are trained to document care.
If you've decided to hire in-house IT talent, you need to look at applicants' resumes for experience at a physician practice, advised Dan O'Connor, vice president of client relations at Stoltenberg Consulting. Absent that, you're looking for a technical person with a clinical background or someone who understands clinical workflows.
While hiring a person with both technical and clinical background can hurt your budget, O'Connor suggests that practices consider a resource with strong experience on the front office side of the practice. These people typically understand the workflow of the practice, which can be equally as important as technical skills — and potentially less costly.
Another option for practices with a keen eye on their budgets is to partner with an affiliated hospital that can help with the EHR implementation. An example is a medical center that has the in-house expertise, added O'Connor.
Hughston Clinic Orthopedics, located in Nashville, Tenn., decided to take this approach by partnering with a large orthopedic practice in Columbus, Ga., in its switch to a new EHR. The reasoning behind this move, said Linda ClenDening, the practice's chief executive officer, is her team really needed access to another practice's technical expertise — in this case, the practice in Georgia has 16 years of EHR experience — and a structured training methodology that had already been nailed down.
"What we're doing is partnering with a practice that has a lot of know-how with the software," said ClenDening.
While she values the EHR vendor's contributions as well, ClenDening notes that what the vendor can't offer is a comprehensive understanding of what it means to deploy an EHR at a physician practice. "They don't do the job every day…When our team leaders go down to the office in Columbus and we sit side-by-side, we learn how the system actually works," she said. Some early learnings by her team thus far include an understanding of audit processes, best practices in rolling out the EHR from a project management perspective, and appropriate policies and procedures with the EHR.
Even if this type of partnership with another healthcare provider isn't an option, O'Connor has some good news: Physician practices may not need as much in-house technical expertise as they think. Many of the EHRs available today are less technical — in terms of the need for modification, says O'Connor. While physician practices will still need access to a technical resource who understands integrations between systems, what's required is a grounding in clinical workflows.
"Also to keep in mind is the fact that there's been a shift in the industry," said O'Connor. "It's a move away from smaller, niche systems, which are often very provider friendly…and super-easy to navigate, but difficult to integrate with local [hospitals' EHRs]." Thus, it's important to have a technical resource within your practice to weigh the pros and cons of a using a niche EHR versus one that may be more difficult to use but makes information sharing with hospitals much easier, he added.