4 Keys to Getting Your Practice Off of Paper
by Leigh-Ann Renz, 8.27.13
Are you looking to start using (or change) electronic systems?
Tablets, smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, ePrescribing, electronic signatures…if it seems like the whole world is going electronic, it is! For many mental & behavioral health care providers, this brave new world can feel intimidating, sometimes even overwhelming to navigate. If you’re considering making the jump from paper to electronic records (or changing systems), take the following into account:
1. Your understanding of EHR / EMR (electronic health / medical records)
It can be confusing to understand exactly how EHRs work and how they might affect your practice. It’s easy to admit that current processes are not as efficient as they might be and wish for a better system, but it can be difficult to visualize how an electronic system might replace and improve your present procedures.
The best way to gain a true understanding of how an EMR might work for you is to identify your most frustrating, time-consuming and complicated tasks. Contact 3-4 EHRs in your price range and present your challenges to them: have them show you how their system can tackle these items to give you an accurate comparison of which software might work best for you.
2. No idea how to find an EHR in your price range?
Use an impartial directory like Capterra or Technology Advice to compare products that meet your specifications and read product reviews. A quick 10 minute trip to a software directory can save you hours of search engine hunting and independent comparisons.
Determining the true price of an EMR can be tricky: it’s more involved than simply comparing the overall cost amounts given to you by vendors. Additionally, you have to determine how much money the EHR is going to save you in labor: if you’re adding an extra $100 monthly expense but your practice management software will save your staff of 4 people 17 hours of work per month, you’re actually saving more money than you’re spending. Those types of figures have to be taken into account when determining the true cost of an EHR.
Putting the Powerful Tool to Work: Does it Cost to Learn the System?
You also have to look at the true bottom line of any program: do you have to pay for training and/or support? If so, the cost of your EHR is higher than just the purchase price. Whether it’s included in the price or not, what level of support will you receive? That’s a crucial question that many providers never even consider, but the entire success or failure of a practice management system can hinge on the ability to efficiently use the program at its fullest capacity.
“I don’t care if you have the best program in the world, if you can’t use it, then it doesn’t help you.” (Seth Haney, Norcon Family Counseling)
As you shop and compare prices, be sure to get detailed information from the vendors you’re considering about their level of training and support and any restrictions you may encounter, and try to factor these intangible into the bottom line.
4. Your staff
One final piece of the EHR puzzle to consider is the initial investment that EMRs require. If you’re using a reliable, comprehensive software that’s going to replace your current document management processes, you have to make an initial investment of time and energy: to get all of your data entered into a new system; to get your staff adequately trained and comfortable with new procedures; to work out any issues that arise from switching systems; and to make sure that your practice has made a full transition and all business practices are efficiently integrated.
You also have to be aware of any resistance that might arise from your staff and take that into consideration when assigning EHR implementation work. Do you employ old school doctors who have been using paper notes for decades and feel that electronic records aren’t of value? Is your office manager resistant to change or hesitant about new ways of doing things? Is your billing person tech-savvy and psyched to streamline their procedures?
When using an electronic system, you have to not only train all of your staff on how to use it: the switch will be far more successful if they can embrace the new system, and figuring out how to help each employee do that is well worth your time & energy.
Consider which staff you will pull away from their regular workflow to transfer data. Which of your team would be the best to have trained first? Are they able to not only take in the new information but also relay it to others who may have more difficulty with this?
Take a little time to evaluate your crew and create a rough assignment of who will be the internal go-to experts for the new program; who can be given the extra work of data entry; and who will require a little extra hand holding during the transition. How can you make the transition most accessible for your office?
The key to successful EMR implementation is being realistic and educated about what electronic records offer; their true cost; and the process of implementation. It can be difficult to find time to even consider these factors in your already over-crowded day. But a well-informed purchasing plan that includes research into key aspects of the programs you’re considering can save you hours of time and energy down the road.
It’s far better to think through the options ahead of time and make the initial investment into procuring and properly implementing a system that’s truly a good fit for your practice than to jump into something blindly because it sounds good in the sales pitch or you don’t feel you have enough time to compare products.