Physicians Practice Pearls: You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

January 1, 2008
Nick Fabrizio

Don’t let employees’ poor computer skills (or your own) stop you from adopting needed technology.


I recently completed a consulting gig with a client using a new EMR. They liked the product and were noting new efficiencies. The only problem: A couple staff members had very weak computer and keyboarding skills, which basically meant they couldn’t use the new system.

Blithely assuming that your staff and physicians are all up-to-date on their basic keyboarding and computing skills will land you promptly behind the technology adoption eight-ball. Veteran workers in particular may have little to no computer experience, making the transition to a paperless office extremely challenging for them.

But you needn’t eschew adopting new technologies just because some of your staff - or even your physicians - are not yet computer savvy. Just take some time to bring them on board. Develop a game plan before implementing new technologies to identify and train these individuals. Consider surveying your staff and physicians to determine the following:

  • How many of your employees and physicians have a computer at home or use a computer more than three times per week?

  • What common administrative programs (Word, Excel, etc.) have your employees used, and how often do they work with these programs?

  • How many of your employees are adept at Internet research (to locate patient education and insurance information)?

  • How many words per minute can each employee type?

The answers to these questions will help you develop a successful foundation for an EMR implementation plan and will shorten your staff’s learning curve. Once you identify the individuals who need a more structured or ongoing training program, you can plan ahead to meet their needs. During the first few weeks of implementation, you will also need to carefully monitor all of your employees and physicians to ensure they are adjusting well to your new processes.

Failure to bring everyone up to speed on basic computer skills - and, by extension, the skills required to operate your new EMR - will force you to use a dual system of paper charts for some and the EMR for others. This will add costs, promote inefficiencies, and frustrate the rest of the staff - not what you want. Instead, work patiently with the people who need training until they have mastered the necessary computer skills and have integrated working with the EMR into their daily activities.

The bottom line: Implementing an EMR in your office is a time-intensive process that requires a detailed plan to identify and eliminate the technological weaknesses of your staff and physicians before, during, and after the process. A little front-end prep work will do wonders to ensure your success post-implementation.

Nick Fabrizio, PhD, FACHE, FACMPE, is a senior consultant with the Medical Group Management Association. Dr. Fabrizio also serves on the faculty at Cornell University in its graduate program in Health Administration. He can be reached at nfabrizio@mgma.com or via editor@physicianspractice.com

This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of Physicians Practice.