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Steps for implementing EHRs

December 8, 2010

Health information technology can bring great benefit to medical practices by making them more efficient, freeing up physician and employee time and providing a system for storing data neatly and effectively, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

As practices may face hurdles when they first implement an EHR, the American Medical Association says that a well thought-out, detailed and flexible action plan can help the transition go more smoothly.

Conducting as much front-end analysis as possible will help when the new technology goes live for the first time. Special attention should be paid to hardware, network arrangements and staff preparation, says the AMA.

Have a back-up plan for clinical documentation and information retention in case problems arise with the EHR upon implementation or during future use. Also, have a system for how to handle paper charts and archive records. Some practices choose to scan charts and pages into a digital file as they are used and others assign a person to archive records.

Use workflow data to plan out the location of computers and to assign tasks and train staff, recommends the AMA.

On the management side, keep in mind that it will take each staff member a different amount of time to get used to the new EHR system. Managers should plan how they will work staff and patients through the transition process. Eventually, each member of the staff should be comfortable with the tasks they will be performing under the EHR and their duties should be practiced before the system is up and running.

A “super-user” among the staff should also be assigned to help colleagues who are less comfortable with the system during the first weeks. There will also be tech support and trainers from the EHR vendor on site for a period of time after the system goes live at the office to help get everyone acclimated.

Patients should be given warning well in advance, through signs, letters and chats with staff members that the practice is moving to digital records. Explain to them that as the practice and staff members transition, they will be seeing fewer patients initially. Prepare the staff to answer questions and plan for complaints, praise and excited questions, advises the AMA.

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