Overcoming the top EHR implementation challenges

Only when you experiment with different approaches and are willing to embrace change, will you be able to come up with a solution that meets the needs of your practice.

Technological innovations have disrupted the healthcare industry in several ways in the last decade.

Gone are the days when healthcare providers were forced to handle large paper medical files to collect, manage, and retrieve patient information. The ubiquitous shift from document-based storage to Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems has been one of the most extraordinary reforms of our times.

A 2019 poll by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45% of U.S. citizens are of the opinion that EHR systems have upgraded the overall quality of care.

However, as with any other technological innovation, EHR implementation comes with its own set of unique challenges. Here is how providers can overcome some of the most common EHR challenges.

1) Security of Patient Data

Keeping data secure is a concern for all businesses in all industries; however, when you are a part of any healthcare organization, it becomes more of a challenge.

According to a 2018 report by HIPAA Journal data breaches of 500 or more healthcare records were being observed at a rate of around 1 per day. By the end of 2020, that rate had nearly doubled with the average number of breaches per day soaring to 1.76.

Healthcare data breaches are infamous for having instilled hefty penalties on the organizations and individuals that commit them, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Such breaches can also tarnish the reputation of the organization in the global market since they are often highlighted in the news.

Therefore, any healthcare provider looking to integrate an EHR system with their practice should first try to educate themselves on ways they can mitigate cybersecurity risks and keep sensitive patient information safe.

For instance, without implementing adequate security controls, a server equipment outage could bring your EHR operations to a complete halt and expose sensitive patient data to cybercriminals. Hence, it is essential to have a data recovery and backup plan in place in the event your storage system crashes, is attacked by cybercriminals, or suffers a partial failure.

Utilizing cloud servers as a back-up option can enable you to access your EHR data in an event such as this, while also offering protection against any potential natural disasters that end up harming physical storage systems. The cloud furnishes supplemental layers of security to your data since it comes loaded with features such as multi-factor authentication, access controls, etc.

One best practice here would be to store all EHR data with a cloud hosting provider that adheres to the rules mentioned within the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Another effective way providers can ensure optimal data security while implementing an EHR system is taking into consideration a few network security actions such as:

  • Implementing procedures relating to the downloading and removal of EHR to reduce the risk of unprotected records being lost or stolen,
  • Using password-protected devices and tablets,
  • Encrypting information so data cannot be easily accessed,
  • Implementing periodic network assessments can help identify potential issues before they become a problem.

Forward-thinking healthcare leaders are also increasingly paying heed to including data security features within the EHR early in its development stage. Assuring that your EHR software complies with HIPAA rules and other recommended regulations from the ground level up can rid yourself of extra effort needed later in development or after a breach occurs.

2) Data Interoperability

Sharing clinical data both within an organization and outside of it with other providers is crucial for delivering care in an efficacious manner. Despite government incentives and regulations to encourage greater interoperability, data sharing remains a serious issue among healthcare providers. This is especially true when it comes to electronic health records.

The scope of this problem is exemplified in a recent report that discovered that close to 32% of individuals who went to the doctor in the 12 months preceding the findings of the study reported experiencing a visible gap in information exchange.

Substandard performance, with respect to interoperability, not only poses healthcare providers with issues concerning practice management and performance, but it can also negatively affect patient satisfaction rates for that practice.

Keeping patients at the center of care is one key to shifting our healthcare system to a value-based model. Interoperability is a vital element of this work since health systems can bridge from population health outcomes down to clinical decision-making at the point of care if systems can exchange information easily and quickly.

So then, how exactly can healthcare providers boost interoperability when it comes to her implementation?

Several progressive healthcare providers are now utilizing a host of emerging technology solutions, such as Natural Language Processing (NLP), to produce datasets from previously static records to improve population health. By deploying such state-of-the-art tech solutions, providers can more easily focus their attention on patients rather than paperwork.

In case a facility is using a virtual care delivery model, one best practice would be to integrate the facility’s EHR system with the telemedicine platform to boost interoperability of patient records and other important health data.

One excellent example of an organization that has reaped the benefits of telemedicine and EHR integration would be that of the Blue Ridge Medical Group, based in Georgia.

Dr. Dillon Miller, the Institute’s Medical Director, says in a recent interview with her Intelligence:

The telehealth tool being embedded into the EHR makes it very user-friendly. Because it’s very easy for my staff to use, it also makes it easy for patients to have consistency on both ends. And the fact that it’s web-based, means patients do not have to login to a specific app for a visit. They get a text message or email, click a link, and it’s connected.

Although the challenge of data interoperability is a complex one, thinking about ways you can counter it can greatly improve your organization’s overall functioning and ameliorate patient outcomes.

Closing Words

Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are many other challenges that different providers may face at different stages during the implementation process.

Educate yourself about industry best practices, look at what your counterparts are doing or study other use cases to determine where problems might arise for you. EHR implementation isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, nor should it be given the variation in medical specialties.

Healthcare providers need to realize that EHR implementation is more of an ongoing process.

Only when you experiment with different approaches and are willing to embrace change, will you be able to come up with a solution that meets the needs of your practice. You need to be on the constant lookout for ways to improve the overall process and deliver patient-centric care in the best possible way.

About the Author
Dr. Leo P. Langlois is an extensively experienced board-certified physician and surgeon, graduated from brown university medical school, completed residency training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and fellowship trained at University of California Davis with over 27 years of experience treating chronic disabling conditions and chronic intractable pain who has run a successful private practice in Bakersfield, California since 2003.