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Making a smooth transition: EHR migration best practices


It’s critical to thoroughly plan the EHR migration process.

EHR | © ivector -

© ivector -

The term EHR migration refers to the process of moving electronic health records from one system or platform to another. The goal of an EHR migration is to transition records smoothly while maintaining the integrity, security, and accessibility of patient data.

Practices might choose to migrate for a variety of reasons. Perhaps their current EHR is outdated, doesn’t meet needs or workflows specific to behavioral health, or doesn’t support rapid scaling.

EHR transitions bring several inherent challenges. Practices must guard data integrity and security during the migration, navigate around system downtimes, and train users on the new system. This is why it’s critical to thoroughly plan the EHR migration process. With clear goals in mind and an EHR migration template at the ready, practices can complete the transition as quickly and easily as possible.

Initiate the process

The very first step in EHR migration is, of course, to choose the right EHR for the practice. Practices should create a checklist with their goals and needs and compare each EHR vendor accordingly, as they decide which solution is right.

As practices finalize their new EHR purchase, they should request information on the company’s migration support processes. What migration resources will they provide, how much assistance do they offer, and who will be their point of contact throughout the process? With these details hammered out, they are ready to start planning.

EHR migration steps

What will the actual migration look like? Here are the six general steps that will take a practice from one system to the other.

1. Assess and compare the old and new EHR

Start by assessing the current EHR and its workflows. Look at typical daily tasks like intake, billing, documentation, patient communication, and telehealth. Then, plot out how these same tasks will look in the new system. The workflows may change—and that’s a good thing.

During the early stages, practices will provide the new EHR company with information about the practice so that they can build the account. They will ask about any third-party vendors that need to integrate with the new system, such as insurance clearinghouses, telehealth providers, credit card processing, etc.—unless an all-in-one EHR is chosen that requires minimal integrations.

2. Identify project owner and internal experts

Practices should delegate one person on staff to “own” the migration process. This manager will keep the project organized, see that tasks are executed on schedule, and guide others involved. For best results, clinicians should also designate specific individuals to become experts on each new process or workflow within the system. For instance, someone at the practice needs to be the expert for billing on the new system. Someone needs to be the scheduling expert, the documentation expert, the patient portal expert, and so on.

Depending on the size of the practice, some employees may have to wear multiple hats, but try to delegate these responsibilities in a way that is balanced and fair.

3. Create a timeline

There’s no singular timeline that will apply to every EHR migration. Practices need to develop a timeline that makes sense given their practice size, how quickly they can arrange data exports, and the capabilities of their new EHR migration team.

It’s important to work with the new EHR company to set target dates for gaining access and for launching the new system publicly with patients. Timelines for migrating data, training team members, testing functionality, and notifying patients of the upcoming change should also be established.

Speaking very generally, small practices and solo practitioners should be able to complete this process in about 30 days, while larger practices typically take 60 to 90 days, but these timelines can vary. Note that integrating insurance processes with a new system may extend the timeline further.

4. Share the plan, build support

Switching to a new system requires time and patience. System downtimes and new system training may interrupt the rhythms of normal work. It’s natural for employees to feel apprehensive about the transition. When announcing the planned EHR switch to the team, it’s important to explain why the switch is happening. The clinicians might understand the benefits of a new EHR, but the rest of the staff might not, and they’ll need to understand why this is a net positive to the entire practice.

To help them, explain the pains the practice currently faces and how the new system will alleviate those challenges. Show employees how a new EHR will improve their workday and their ability to serve patients well.

5. Data migration

The speed of EHR implementation partially depends on how fast practices can get data out of the system. The existing patient records will need to be extracted from their current system in a structured format that can be mapped onto the new EHR. This will involve exporting data in a standardized format and ensuring data integrity after the extraction process. Then it will be fed into the new system and checked again for errors and accuracy.

A timeline should be agreed upon with the current EHR provider. This process should begin early to ensure that practices can gain access to the new EHR with enough time for plenty of training.

6. Implementation

Once the data is transferred, the new system will need to be tested to ensure everything is working as intended. Now, it’s time to begin training staff. Practices should schedule training sessions on basic functions at appropriate, digestible intervals. Learning a new system doesn’t happen all at once, so it is best to prioritize the most critical functions. For example, learning how to configure certain types of patient communications may be much further down the list than learning how to schedule appointments.

During the early planning stage, practices should identify their in-house project manager and loop this person into conversations with the new EHR migration support team. If the practice has executive-level leadership, these leaders should also contribute to the planning stages to ensure alignment with organizational goals.

Project managers will work with reps from the old and new EHR systems to begin the data migration process and identify the right providers and staff to help populate accurate patient data. Once the data is in, the system must be tested.

EHR migration is complex, but by following a well-defined process and involving key stakeholders at each step, behavioral health practices can make the transition gracefully, with minimal disruptions to work. With EHR migration completed, clinicians are positioned to improve mental health care, enhance data management, and help patients achieve better outcomes.

Ram Krishnan is CEO of Valant

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