Guest post by Sanjeev Dahiwadkar, CEO, RxOffice.
No one will argue that there are not benefits to EHRs (electronic health records). They eliminate paper, enable providers to track data efficiently over a period of time, create a clearinghouse of patient health information in one place, just to name a few. Some argue EHRs improve the overall quality of patient care and business management. However, with so many EHRs on the market, hospitals and doctors’ offices face the daunting task of selecting the right system. Like the general population, most healthcare professionals’ exposure to technology has been limited to that of a consumer, making the selection of the right EHR system a process out of their comfort zone. Then getting trained on how to efficiently use the system while maintaining a high level of patient care comes into play. This has proven to be frustrating, ineffective and possibly dangerous in extreme cases when information is incorrect and/or cannot be accessed. This situation has put healthcare providers in a challenging position, to say the least.
Since 2009 when the federal government rolled out the $30 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as an incentive program for the healthcare industry to go digital with its records, the landscape has changed. One of the first things that happened was the huge influx of technology vendors who decided to make their foray into the healthcare space. Unfortunately, most of these companies did not understand how the industry operated, no pun intended. In fact, the average vendor just launched its first product to the industry in the last year so that does not provide a lot of industry longevity/credibility. Many vendors were focused on getting the peace of $30 billion pie at the cost of their client not getting what the system they needed. Established technology vendors, who shifted their focus on solving the industry’s problems, were outnumbered by the new players who entered the market chasing government grants. The availability of these grants actually created an EHR technology bubble in very short period of time. To make matter worse, well-intended government rules only focused on the end users’ ability to implement technology correctly instead of the technology producers.
With the overwhelming amount of information out there about EHR technology and the providers, healthcare professionals must do thorough due diligence to find the best system that fits their needs. This will take both a time and resource commitment. Let’s look using a metaphor that most people understand or at least have had some experience with, dating. The same principles used in dating can apply when selecting the right EHR technology. Here are four simple rules that can help any healthcare provider make a good business decision when looking for an EHR solution.
Rule#1: Starts with you
Know what you want. Whether you are using dating sites or meeting someone at a bar or social gathering – you must set and have realistic expectations. What do you like, what do you want and what would be wonderful to have? These are questions that are posed when creating your profile on dating sites, but they often get overlooked meeting someone in person first. The primary reason that you establish preferences is to make sure your needs are well understood, so a suitable match can be determined that meets your criteria.
The same is important when selecting EHR technology. You need to first think about internal operations and the service your office performs (urgent care, specialized care, complete test, etc.). Additionally, you need to take into account how you want to provide patient service, what is working, what is not working and how you want technology to play role in your business operations. All of these areas must be addressed BEFORE embarking on a technology decision. This will save you valuable time and possibly thousands of dollars.
Just as patients rely on healthcare providers for remedies and answers, working with a technology expert who understands your business is critical. He or she can help identify and address what your most pressing needs are. Reading books and purchasing tech gadgets or just having an interest in technology does not make someone a technology expert. You may have seen the commercial for prescription acid reflux medication Nexium in which a doctor is shown digging a hole at a construction site and a construction worker is selecting an over-the-counter medicine for heartburn. The commercial reminds us to not self-diagnose and to let the doctors do their job; the same principal applies to technology assessment and selection – let technology experts do their jobs.
Rule #2: Do your vendor due diligence
Dates that are matched through a match-making service do so based on the preferences and characteristics of the person who input them. The profile can be detailed or sparse, exaggerated or truthful, you do not know until you do some research or meet in person. The same standard should also apply to selecting a technology partner. Research the provider’s history; consider the company’s reputation in the industry as well as in other industries (if company is recently entering the healthcare market) and then after carefully weighing the results, request a meeting or presentation.
Obtaining this information is easy; a simple Google search of the company can provide numerous details. Request client references from companies whose business model is similar to yours. Like being set up on a date by a mutual friend (a reference), asking a potential vendor for references should not come as a surprise to them. Your goal is to learn as much as you can about a vendor’s ability to meet deadlines, how attentive the firm is to client request, what is the customer service like, etc. When making a section from a group that includes new vendors, focus on its ability to deliver what was promised. If the vendor is established in another industry, research the company’s record and references there to determine if they meet deadlines and delivery what is promised.
Develop your own questions based on your criteria to weigh each of the answers to determine what vendor may best meet with your business needs. Due diligence before you make a selection can save you from making a costly mistake.
Rule #3: Take your time
Most people do not usually go from the first date to the wedding chapel. They take it slow, building a relationship and getting to know one another before making a commitment. The same approach needs to be used when selecting a technology and a vendor. Despite federal regulatory requirements and the occasional internal looming deadlines, it is important to not rush making a vendor decision. The technology may be spot on but you may not be ready to implement every feature of the system on the first day. Carefully review all options, do not rush into a hasty and unwell-thought-out decision simply to be able to say you have installed a system.
This also means do not try to accomplish too many system changes at one time. Immediately dismantling your internal system without a thorough assessment of your current and possible future needs is short-sighted and irrational. Taking the time to understand how a new system will affect the existing processes and the effect it will have on currently used systems is paramount. You do not want to fix one problem only to create another. Just as you get to know the good and the not-so-good characteristics of a date once you go out a few times, you should be aware of all of the features of a system.
Too often, people are afraid of change; this applies to employees, as well as venturing into the world of dating. Switching systems in itself is a big step so; do not complicate it by adding too many new processes. It will be easier to implement new processes in stages while keeping some of the current methods to allow people to adjust their perspective. Progressive migration has a better chance of success than a total disruptive migration.
Rule #4: Give an opportunity to for things to work
Just like any relationship that runs into some obstacles, becoming accustom to a new system takes time. After integration, training and necessary tweaks to the system and/or an internal process, it still may take a couple of months to realize the benefits of the system.
Keep in mind that new technology will take time to get used to and daily habits may need to changes. Some employees may complain with the implementation of a new system. Much like when you find out that your date may travel a different way to the restaurant than you do and they avoid traffic and get their faster. If you had complained earlier on drive to the restaurant, you may have incurred unnecessary delays. A positive attitude will go a long way in helping others users give the system a chance to work.
If you take the time to do research systems based on what you want and need to improve your processes and you give it time to work, you and your EHR could have a beautiful relationship.