Implementing a New Practice Management System

August 2, 2012
Chastity Werner, RHIT

Like anything else, proper implementation of a new practice management system is focused on planning and training.

So you have found the perfect practice management system for your practice. Now what do you do? Switching from one system to another can be stressful and cause many issues if not implemented properly. Here are a few pointers to stay on top of your implementation, ensuring a smooth transition.

• Keep ongoing lists and notes. Why are you purchasing the system? What functionalities are vital during implementation and which are future items? By keeping a list, you can go back and refresh your memory. Your lists could include:
o Immediate items
o Wish list items
o Items that need to be investigated
o Tasks at hand with appropriate deadlines

• Remember to continually update your lists and stay on top of your deadlines! Hold yourself accountable! During the implementation process, daily routines can become chaotic and hectic. It is easy to get wrapped up in daily tasks and forget implementation “to dos.”

• Sign up for newsletters or regular updates from your software vendor - it only takes a few minutes to glance at these newsletters. These can be wonderful sources of information on the direction the software is heading as well as current issues. These updates allow you to get a snapshot of current topics, issues, and upcoming items such as training.

• Join LinkedIn and other social networks that are affiliated or focused on your software. There is usually an abundance of information from individuals that are using the software on a regular basis. With today’s ability to do research online, you have a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips within seconds.

• Attack one project at a time and stay with it until it is completed. When implementing a new function of the system that requires concentrated attention, remember to focus and complete the process before moving onto the next function or you may never see it through. If you need to have multiple functionalities implemented at the same time, documentation and monitoring are keys to success.

• Participate in local user group meetings and continuing education programs related to the software. These are wonderful resources that will allow you to network with other users and pick their brains on what has and has not worked for them. Many times, continuing education and training are areas that lack after a system is implemented. The fact is, a practice management system is the same as any other purchase in that it requires continued maintenance and re-investing. You do not purchase a car and never have the oil changed or routine maintenance performed. Why would you with software that, in many cases, is the lifeline of your practice?

• Do the research, but know when to invest in external help. Just because you are intelligent enough to figure out how to implement or set up a function in the system does not mean it is a smart investment of your time. As a manager, time is not your friend. Often, days are rerouted from your plan due to unforeseen issues or unexpected "management" duties. If you are taking a week to learn how to change or add reason codes into the system or implement a new process, who is handling your responsibilities? Above all, just because you were able to set it up does not mean you set it up correctly, which in turn can cause even more issues and take more time to correct in the long run.

A system implementation is a life changing event for practices. These events can come with many surprises, some good and some bad. Like anything else proper implementation is focused on planning and training. Make sure when implementing the system you choose you are giving it the best opportunity to perform the way it is expected to perform.

Chastity Werner, RHIT, is a member of the healthcare service team at St. Louis-based consulting firm Anders Minkler & Dielhl LLP (AMD). Over a 17-year healthcare career, she has worked with hospitals, physicians' practices, and payers with a current focus on physician revenue cycle improvement and has firsthand knowledge of EHR / practice management software implementation. She can be reached here.