Implementing any new EHR system can be difficult, but switching EHR systems requires careful planning and consideration.
Before you begin, you should create a plan and outline each step of the process with specific goals and responsibilities for everyone involved in the transition.
Create a step-by-step plan
Whether you have already started or are still researching your options, creating a plan will probably simplify the implementation process and help you choose an appropriate launch date. Be sure to ask your new EHR vendor for help during the transition. If you have other questions, you may find the answers you need online at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health IT Implementation Toolbox.
The HHS suggests following a nine-step plan for implementing new EHR software, including: ¹
- Initial planning: Make a basic plan to switch EHRs and take note of who is involved in the implementation process at your practice and what their responsibilities are. You should create goals and plan to track the group’s activities during the upgrade.
- Workflow: When you switch EHR software, your workflow may change. Decide how to make your use of EHR more efficient and begin considering how the new upgrade will impact your office processes and policies. If you have employees, you may want to enlist their help with this step.
- Budgeting: Determine how much your practice can afford to budget for EHR costs. The total cost of EHR software changes may include purchasing new software and services, technical support services costs and other expenses.
- Team training: Plan for training your staff (or yourself) on using your new EHR. Create your team and consider hiring office staff, if needed. Take this opportunity to assess how your staffing and training needs may change with the new upgrade.
- Collaborating with others: Assess how you currently collaborate with other practices, organizations, medical facilities, and other groups. If you need to share medical record data with other organizations, consider how your new EHR will impact this process. There may also be resources available to help your practice collaborate better and implement a new EHR, so it is important to do your own research and consider available options.
- Find new EHR software: At this stage, begin considering different EHR systems. Compare features and look for a software package that meets your needs better than your old system. You may want to review testimonials from current software users and ask several vendors about features and pricing.
- Implementation: During the upgrade, you should work closely with your EHR vendor to adjust the new software to fit your practice’s needs. Data should be transferred from your old system to the new software. Throughout the process, you will probably need to test the new system and train your employees. Choosing a target launch date for the new EHR may help simplify this process and bring everyone on-board.
- Security and privacy: Develop or update security and privacy procedures. Create a plan to regularly test your new EHR system for loopholes that may cause data breeches. Do your own research on maintaining compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
- Evaluate and improve: After implementing your new upgrade, consider your practice’s experiences with the new system and look for possible improvements. You and your staff may need to revise office procedures, create new policies or make other changes.
Audit your system regularly
Ongoing audits of your new EHR for functionality and compliance may help you prevent future problems. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) recommends auditing for HIPAA compliance, payment system security and other applicable issues as part of a risk assessment strategy. ²
Your own risk assessment may include past employee records, how your EHR is used by current employees, sensitive or high-profile patient records and other information. You can perform self-audits of your system and can follow these guidelines by the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS).
Depending on local and federal regulations, your practice may be subject to outside audits. Conducting your own audits may help you to be better prepared. Create a plan for regularly auditing your practice and follow-through with it.
For additional guidance on risk analysis audits, review the Security Risk Analysis Tipsheet developed for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.
Plan and stay informed
Ongoing training, research and improvement will help your practice stay on track throughout the upgrade process. With enough planning, you can prepare your office for a smooth EHR transition.
¹The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Implementation Topics: 9 Steps to Implement EHRs.” http://www.hrsa.gov/healthit/toolbox/healthitimplementation/implementationtopics/implementationtopics.html. Accessed December 2015.
²American Health Information Management Association. Journal of AHIMA. “Privacy and Security Audits of Electronic Health Information.” http://library.ahima.org/xpedio/groups/public/documents/ahima/bok1_050599.hcsp?dDocName=bok1_050599. Published March 2014. Accessed December 2015.