Electronic health records: From paper to electronic

March 15, 2010

Although all practices are different, the tips outlined in this first installment of a two-part series should help to avoid the most common implementation pitfalls.

Key Points

Editor's Note: This two-part series is intended to provide suggestions on how to implement an electronic health record (EHR) system successfully. Although all practices are different, the tips outlined in this first installment should help to avoid the most common implementation pitfalls and help to ensure success in the transformation from paper to electronic records. The second part of the series, in the April 1 issue, will feature tips on how to work through the final EHR integration.

EHR can help to improve the level of care that you provide your patients. If done well, it also can lead to improvements in practice efficiency, cost reduction, and revenue. As significant as the advantages are, so is the magnitude of switching an established practice from paper to electronic records. But if you ask any practice that has implemented EHR successfully, they all echo the same chorus, "we'll never go back to paper!"

Too often, practices underestimate the time and complexity required to implement an EHR system and do not allocate enough resources to keep the project on track. To avoid this, create an implementation team and nominate a project manager. Their role will be to create a plan and a timeline and to manage the implementation process.

If you have multiple locations, ensure that members of those office teams are represented. This not only helps to ensure that everyone is "on-board" with the move to EHR, but also helps to ensure the entire practice's needs are taken into consideration.

Consider appointing a clinician or an office manager for your project manager, and not a lower-level employee. Integrating EHR successfully into your practice requires a detailed knowledge of your practice's processes. The more knowledge your project manager has, the more smoothly the move is likely to go from paper to electronic.

One of the most important steps in the EHR implementation process is to consider your business processes and the many ways that EHR affects them. In many cases, reconfiguring business processes can lead to improvements in efficiency.

Analyze everything

The first step is to analyze the current processes thoroughly, paying attention to small steps you may take for granted:

Create new processes

The next step is to create new processes that incorporate the things you do well and alter other processes, as necessary, to create more efficiency and incorporate electronic data flow. This includes: