Assess your practice's strengths, weaknesses to prevent EHR failure

EHR failures most often are the result of poor planning and preparation for the implementation, a family physician told a group of doctors and practice managers at a recent forum held by the federally designated Maine Regional Extension Center, Healthcare IT News reports.

As has been pointed out to physicians for years, the speaker, Dr. Scott Patch of Yarmouth, Maine-based multispecialty group InterMed, said there has to be "buy-in" to the EHR project across the organization--among partners, practitioners and office staff alike. Everyone needs to accept the fact that there will be a "redistribution of work," Patch said. "There is going to be more and new work. For us it was our check-out staff that required more training."

Another oft-repeated bit of advice is to name a physician champion to get other physicians on board with the project, and Patch mentioned that doctors are most likely to listen to other doctors.

Planning should include a thorough assessment of what the practice does and does not do well, Patch said, according to Healthcare IT News, which also calls Yarmouth home. "The EHR represents a fundamental change to the way the office handles the movement of patients and information," he said, and recommended that other practices pay close attention to document management.

Scanning of old, paper documents may solve some short-term needs for information sharing, but it's important to take the time to pre-load some of the most pertinent patient information, such as medical history. "Scanning is not the answer to everything," Patch said. "Preloading is more important for productivity; if you favor preloading, it is much more efficient down the road." He explained that if physicians often need to go back to paper charts to find certain pieces of information, they will be less likely to embrace the EMR.

"If you are scanning, remember structured data," Patch noted. "Capturing structured data is the most important part of the EMR." You will need to be able to generate reports for reimbursement, for tracking patients and for proving "meaningful use" to earn Medicare or Medicaid bonus payments starting in 2011. This, according to Patch, is why it's so important to have an interface with laboratory systems, and to standardize as much data as possible within the EHR.

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