Selecting and implementing an EHR can be a daunting process. Even a “tech savvy” clinician can be severely taxed by the sheer volume of work needed to make a decision regarding the choice of an EHR and coordinating the implementation and use of that system within the medical practice. A wide range of consultants is available to assist practices with this process, including independent and government funded Regional Extension Centers (RECs). Do you need assistance? And if so, how should you select a consultant?
Here are some guidelines to consider:
- How “hands-on” do you plan to be with your implementation? You may be very comfortable with technology, and if you were involved with the selection of the EHR, you may fit the exact profile of a clinical champion. However, there is a difference between selection and implementation. Even though selection requires diligence in identifying the right product for your practice, implementation requires constant communication with colleagues and staff, excellent trouble shooting skills, and a significant amount of available time in order to do the job properly. If you are a solo physician or work in a small practice, you may be able to manage the additional workload associated with implementation; however, you will need to reduce your clinical workload quite significantly in the 2–4 weeks following go live and, with the added EHR project management responsibilities, your income will be further reduced during this phase.
- If you are an eligible professional, you may qualify for assistance through a Regional Extension Center (REC). (Under Medicare, an Eligible Professional includes the following five types of professionals: doctor of medicine or osteopathy, a doctor of oral surgery or dental medicine, a doctor of podiatric medicine, a doctor of optometry, or a chiropractor.) Funding for Regional Extension Centers has been designated to support 100,000 eligible primary care providers to accelerate efforts to become meaningful users of Electronic Health Records (EHRs). If you qualify for assistance through your state REC, they can provide assistance to your practice regarding EHR implementation. Some of the RECs provide this service at no cost to the practice (up to a certain limit) and others require a co-payment to supplement the costs of providing the services you require. For more information on the Regional Extension Centers and to find the Center near you, click here.
- If you are in a larger group of 10+ physicians or a multidisciplinary group practice, the level of complexity with implementation increases exponentially as the practice becomes larger. In these circumstances, it is wise to consider getting outside, third-party assistance. If you have led the selection of your EHR, you are well positioned to be a super-user (someone who has received additional training to use the EHR who can act as a leader or expert guide for others in the practice). This in itself can be quite demanding, particularly in the first few months following implementation, as your colleagues and staff encounter problems that they are unable to solve.
- Be realistic. If you have a spouse and children, it is a good idea to have additional support/expertise with the implementation process if you do not want to be a stranger at home. A good project manager with experience in EHR implementation is going to be much more effective than a stressed-out physician who is trying to maintain a practice while coordinating an IT project.
- If you are going to lead your EHR implementation and have partners or associates in your practice, reach an agreement within the practice regarding your compensation for the time that you will be taking from clinical care to manage the implementation. For example, 50% in the first two weeks, 30% in the following two weeks, and 20% for the second month after go live. In addition, budget time appropriately for the pre-implementation phase. (Note: Everyone will see a reduction in income during EHR implementation, so take this into account when budgeting the cost of your time contribution.)
With some forethought and planning, you should have a good strategy in place to ensure successful implementation of your EHR. Be willing to ask for help and ensure you check references when selecting a consultant to assist you. A local consultant who knows your practice and is available to assist at a future date when you begin EHR optimization is a valuable resource.