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May 31, 2016 6:00:00 AM · by Dave Wolfe

8 Essential Tips for a Successful EHR Upgrade

Successfully implementing an Electronic Health Records (EHR) system upgrade requires taking a thorough account of both the technological and the human variables involved. This means not only finding a streamlined EHR designed to meet your unique needs, but also ensuring proper training of staff to help smooth the transition.

Similar to the considerations one factors in when exploring new contract possibilities, careful preparation and attention to detail are vital. Here are some essential and straightforward tips to ensuring that your EHR upgrade is a success.

1. Consider What You Need, and What You Don’t

As EHR technology grows more sophisticated, records become more than a simple medical file. This adds a degree of specificity and comprehensiveness that was previously unimagined — as well as all the challenges that come with it. This means, that when it comes to choosing an EHR system upgrade, considering a system that may actually limit the data you can input might streamline its usability.

"Although computers and EHRs can facilitate and even improve clinical documentation, their use can also add complexities," writes the author of a new paper, "Clinical Documentation in the 21st Century," published by the American College of Physicians. “We are in danger of repeating history by over structuring the clinical record and overloading it with extraneous data.

2. Check Existing Systems for Compatibility

Even if your EHR is getting an upgrade, that doesn’t necessarily mean your other administrative technology will follow any time soon. This makes checking compatibility — whether it’s hardware, reporting, data exports or backups — with existing technology incredibly important.

3. Make Sure You Have the Bandwidth

Are you sure you’re ready for the upgrade? Beyond questions of hardware and training, other resource limitations like time and staff may end up stretching already thin bandwidth to its breaking point. Before undertaking a major upgrade, set aside time and personnel resources to ensure that you aren’t implementing and testing on the fly.

[Related: Download Our "Five Things to Know About Cerner Implementation" Guide]

4. Good EHR Should Include Training Resources

Even if you are upgrading your EHR while using the same vendor, there is no guarantee that the new system will have the same functionality. Take the time to define your “current state” workflows, what is working, what is not working, and how the “future state” application’s functionality will address these issues.  

This is why it is key to request and review all operation manuals and training materials available from the vendor before your start date. Clearly understanding the functionality of the new system and how it relates to your organization’s workflow and what modifications of the “current state” will need to take place in order to realize the benefits of the new system.  

Proper training is critical in any EHR upgrade, in terms of teaching staff and providers to use the system properly. Training should be viewed as one of the key components in the overall adoption, sustainment and success of your upgrade.

5. Test The System Before You Roll it Out

If you can, build in sufficient time for “unit” testing and “real life integrated” testing of the new system before you integrate it wholesale into your daily operations. This will help identify potential issues, as well as zero in on hidden pain-points, such as maintaining interoperability during the transition between new systems and existing ones that further training can address.

It is important to include end users in this process to identify issues and gain working knowledge of the new system.  Integrated testing flushes out the issues that your organization may encounter, identifies additional “build” requirements (e.g. additional PowerPlans) that may be required, and provides an excellent system training opportunity for the end-users.

6. Training Isn’t a One-Time Occurrence

“When your team has little or no experience in using an EHR system, you should expect that they will need a significant amount of time to learn about the system and to become accustomed to using it in their daily tasks,” according to the Advance Data Systems Corporation blog.

This means that even after an initial training session, the work of preparing your staff isn’t done. Regularly reviewing procedures and generating reports to see how your staff is taking to the process is vital.  Measuring how the system is used post go-live identifies areas where additional staff training may be required.   Training does not stop at go-live.

7. Consider Not Only Patients, But Insurance

With the more advanced functions of some upgraded EHR systems, integration of patient records with insurance provider communication can bring with it a host of regulatory and compliance issues related to HIPAA. Yet a good EHR system can also speed up the approval process by offering a more direct line to insurance providers.

8. Ask For Help When Needed

Your vendor shouldn’t up and vanish once you’ve made the switch, especially since full implementation takes time and is prone to bumps in the road. Even before you have settled on an upgrade contract, discuss what support options your vendor offers and their availability in case of emergency. In addition to vendor support, outside consultants with a breadth of experience implementing the new system is another valuable resource.

Through carefully following these tips, you can help ensure a smooth transition as you bring your staff up to speed on new protocols and functions. Take your time planning and preparing for an impending upgrade, giving yourself and your organization ample resources to work with.

Thinking about adopting the Cerner EHR platform? Download our guide to get down all the basics.

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