Gathering Technical Know-how for an EHR Deployment

October 14, 2016

From hiring in-house IT talent to undertaking strategic partnerships with other practices, providers have options when it comes to deploying their new EHR.

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.