If you're thinking of implementing electronic health records (EHRs) into your practice, you're not alone. According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), 83 percent of office-based physicians had adopted an EHR system, with 51 percent of those choosing a basic EHR system, by the end of 2014. The adoption rate for any EHR nearly doubled from 42 percent in 2008, while the adoption rate for a basic EHR nearly tripled from 17 percent.
Adoption rates are rising because of the many benefits of EHR systems, which include improved patient outcomes, better care coordination, and cost savings. They also allow quick access to patient records, reduce medical errors, and enable safer prescribing.
Implementing a new system into your practice can take a considerable amount of time, effort, and money, so there are a couple of things you should do before you make any decisions. When you perform your readiness assessment, some of the areas you'll want to cover include:
- Technical readiness.
- Clinical readiness.
- Administrative and management readiness.
First, evaluate your current system and perform a readiness assessment of your practice. What isn't your current system doing that you hope to accomplish with an EHR? How will the move to a new system affect your staff and patients? Does your practice have high-speed Internet access? Will you need to purchase new or additional hardware, and if so, do you have the financial means?
If you need assistance assessing your practice's readiness and preparing for EHR implementation, your local Regional Extension Center (REC) can help. RECs are authorized and funded under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act to help primary-care providers adopt and achieve meaningful use of EHRs.
Once you've evaluated your current system and assessed your practice's readiness, you'll want to set goals for the new system. The ONC recommends setting SMART goals for the implementation process. SMART stands for:
- Specific. If this goal is achieved, it will make a difference for the practice and your patients.
- Measurable. It addresses where you are currently, and the target goal can be quantified.
- Attainable. The goal may require a lot of time and effort, but it can be achieved.
- Relevant. The goal is relevant to your practice and worth the effort.
- Time-bound. There is a deadline for reaching the goal.
Your goals may change during the planning and implementation process, so it's important to be flexible. Ultimately, you want to do what makes sense for your practice and your patients.
Another step you may want to complete before choosing a system is to make a list of vendors. You can ask peers which vendors they are using, or check the ONC's Certified Health IT Product List for EHR programs. Ask vendors how long they've been providing EHRs, if they provide implementation and training services, and what kind of support they offer after the EHR is launched. You'll also want to request a demonstration of the system.
Now that you've completed a few prerequisites, it's time to select an EHR system. Some further factors you'll want to consider include:
- If and how the EHR will accomplish the goals you set during the planning process.
- How much it will cost to buy new hardware and software, as well as pay for maintenance, upgrades, and data migration.
- Privacy and security capabilities, and HIPAA compliance.
- Integration capabilities with existing software and products.
The benefits of EHR systems are hard to ignore, but you'll save yourself a lot of time and frustration if you make a plan beforehand and stick to it.