We've now reached the point in American healthcare where a vast majority of hospitals and healthcare organizations have implemented an EHR system. Those organizations are now faced with one important question: What do we do now?
The short answer—and the one hospital administrators were likely hoping for—is "use it." Unfortunately, it's not that simple. EHR systems are not "plug and play," and if you recently (or even not so recently) worked on the implementation or update of your facility's EHR system, you probably know exactly what we're talking about.
So the more accurate answer to that question is: "Optimize how we're using our EHR system."
EHR Implementation Problems and How to Fix Them
One of the biggest mistakes healthcare organizations make in planning the implementation or upgrade of their EHR systems is forgetting to account for ongoing changes and process updates.
In a field report from one of the 62 Regional Extension Centers (RECs) funded by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to help primary care providers adopt and use EHR systems, consultants noted that many of the issues that arose from the implementation were the result of "unrealistic expectations" and failure to dedicate sufficient time, rather than technological problems.
Obviously managing expectations and allocating time is easier said than done. A healthcare facility's first responsibility is to its patients, and taking time for a lengthy internal process update can seem like it's taking away from that. But the truth is that EHR implementation is for the benefit of your patients, and we all realize that. When patient care is coordinated and every single person involved in that care has all the information they need to make decisions, it benefits everyone.
Of course, that doesn't mean there won't be frustrations. Expecting and being prepared to deal with those frustrations is a big part of optimizing your EHR usage.
What to Do After EHR Implementation
The last step of an EHR implementation—and incidentally the first step in optimizing your EHR usage after implementation—should be continually educating staff, getting feedback, and adjusting the EHR workflows until the system works to everyone's advantage. As the REC report notes:
"Clinics should plan to spend additional time redesigning workflows after the EHR has been implemented as well as before implementation. In order for an EHR to increase efficiency, improve clinical care and enhance patient safety, clinic staff must understand how information is gathered and entered into the EHR, how information is processed and organized within the EHR, and where the information is used in the workflows to support the clinical decisions that affect patient care."
In short, don't assume that the day the system "goes live" is the end of the process. Technology is not static, nor should it be, and there will be bugs. Focus on securing patient data and setting workflows that actually fit the flow of your facility, and you will begin to see the benefits of your EHR system right away.