5 Best Practices for Switching to an EMR System

September 13, 2017
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More and more medical practices and healthcare organizations are switching to electronic medical record (EMR) systems. EMR systems, at their most basic, are software systems designed to digitize the process of creating, storing, and accessing medical records. The advantages here are overwhelming; switching to an EMR system will save you physical space, increase your efficiency, save time, reduce errors, and allow for faster communication, but at the same time, upgrading can be problematic for organizations trying to manage the change.

Main Points of Inefficiency

To address the challenges of switching EMR systems or adopting one for the first time, you need to know the main reasons why a transition is difficult in the first place:

  • Setting new standards. Your new system will have some new capabilities, but how many of those capabilities will you tap into? What kind of new standards are you going to set? This is a difficult question and there’s no one right answer, so you’ll need to think this through carefully.
  • Training the staff. Your staff members will be the ones using this system on a daily basis, so they need to get up to speed. Some of your team members will learn faster than others, but all of them will experience challenges along the way.
  • Timing the transition. Will you be rolling out the new system all at once in a single day, or gradually throughout your different departments? Each approach has major challenges.

A Smoother Operation

Fortunately, you can use these tactics to help make your EMR transition as smooth as possible:

  1. Outsource the work of digitizing old files. One of the biggest challenges in upgrading to an EMR system is taking all your older, physical files, and putting them in the new system. This work is tedious, but fortunately, it doesn’t need to happen all at once. One of your best options here is to outsource the work to a temporary staff member or independent contractor so your full-time staff doesn’t have to bear this additional burden. They’ll be busy enough trying to incorporate the new system into their day-to-day activities.
  2. Customize your platform. Most modern EMR platforms offer a degree of customizability, offering different functions for different areas of specialty or at least allowing some element of personalization. Before you start developing plans for how to use your software, take the time to understand exactly what you need out of it in the first place, and customize accordingly.
  3. Develop a SOP early on. The sooner you can develop a centralized standard operating procedure (SOP), the better. Working on a SOP will force you to think about how your new platform is going to be used by your staff members and in the broader context of your organization overall. It will also allow you to have an all-in-one training manual and FAQ guide, serving as a resource for any of your staff members who, at any point during training and rollout, can consult it for clarification or direction.
  4. Run tests before making the full transition. Chances are, you won’t be able to foresee all the logistical hurdles and complications that your new platform will bring to your organization until it’s already in use. That’s why it’s a good idea to run a “soft launch” or a test of your platform before updating all your staff and all your systems at once. Experiment and see where the weak points are so you can correct them proactively.
  5. Train your full staff how to use the system properly. This should be implied, but you’d be surprised how many organizations roll out new software, expecting their staff to just pick it up naturally. While most EMR platforms are somewhat intuitive, it’s better to be proactive and train your staff to use your new system properly. You can do this in several different ways, but the most time-efficient is to train your staff as a group in one dedicated session, then use on-the-job training to help guide individuals in further development (as individuals will learn at different rates).
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If you follow these best practices and prioritize the effective implementation of your new system, you should have no trouble making the transition as smooth as possible. There will always be hiccups, and even once integrated, you’ll probably experience some logistical hurdles, but the goal is to minimize these—not eliminate them entirely.