Encouraged by federal subsidies, many practices are exploring the purchase of electronic health records for their offices. However, buying the right software has limited value if you don’t use it correctly; the process between deciding to adopt and implementation will determine the outcome for your practice. Here are steps you can take to give yourself the best chance of success:
- Understand your needs. Before you enter the market decide what it is you want to buy. This may sound simple but products and their capabilities vary widely. You don’t want the vendor telling you what you want, because those features will match their strengths. Get a team together, including front desk staff, billers, managers, nurses, and physicians, and have them list what they would like technology to do for them.
- Prioritize. Now that you have a list of potential features, reconvene the group and ask them to rank each from “most desirable” to “would be nice.” Your ultimate choice will need to address all of the “most desirables.” Some functions are non-negotiable, so be sure to have those at the top of your list.
- Vendors. Do some homework and see if you can identify four to five vendors that seem to offer what you want, in a price range you can afford. Contact them and supply your wish list before spending time on demonstrations and proposals. Most important is the strength of the company. You don’t want to go through the process again if the vendor goes out of business next year.
- Selection. Ask each vendor to address your practice’s specific technology needs and conduct an actual demonstration. Then have your internal team attend the demonstration and offer input on how well the vendor did in understanding and addressing those needs. Remember that the person doing the demonstration does this for a living: They have pre-loaded data that they know works, and they can make the program “dance.” Ask to try it yourself.
- Training. As a means of avoiding classic “sticker shock,” vendors may understate the time and effort needed to train staff and supervise the “go live” process. Unless you and your staff fully understand how to use the product and have vendor tech support available to watch and teach users during the first few days of implementation, you may never get maximum benefit from your investment. Be sure the vendor understands the skills of each staff member who will be using the system, and has tailored a training schedule to address your specific situation.
- Implementation. Between purchase and use is a very critical time frame. Review how your practice operates and how your new software will handle those same tasks. Never automate inefficiency. If you find that you and the product approach things differently consider changing your current process. Identify key staff in each functional area and appoint them “super users.” Finding a champion who can show her colleagues how the system works in your practice will inspire the rest of your staff to become accomplished users.
- Make it mandatory. You have invested time and money in a product because it will have advantages for your practice and, ultimately, your patients. Using it should not be optional, and how it is used must be standardized. Don’t allow one physician to point and click, one to dictate, and a third to scan transcribed notes.
Most importantly, make a commitment to bring your practice into the future. Technology can help, but you’ll need to shepherd your practice by exploring all the options.
Greg Mertz, Associate Director, Navigant Consulting Inc., has been consulting with practices for more than 30 years. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.