Easing the transition to electronic health records

December 3, 2010

"Wow, that was easy!" How wonderful it would be if you could utter those words once your transition to electronic health records was complete.

Key Points

How wonderful it would be if you could utter those words once your transition to electronic health records (EHRs) was complete.

Now that "meaningful use" has been more clearly defined, it's time to start thinking seriously about how your practice will convert from its current records system to one that meets the requirements of meaningful use defined earlier this year in the final rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Although no conversion will ever be completely issue-free, many steps can be taken to prepare for an EHR transition that will lessen the trauma of going from paper to electronic records or from one electronic system to another certified system.

The key steps include:

MAKING A PLAN

Making a plan starts with defining your practice needs. What are short- and long-term goals for the practice? For example, in the next 2 to 5 years, will you need to look at:

DEFINING YOUR TEAM

By making everyone a member of the transition team and working together toward a common goal, you can eliminate the resistance sometimes experienced during times of significant change and ensure you are ready for the transition.

Be sure to represent every area of your practice:

USING AVAILABLE RESOURCES

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act has created not only incentives for the adoption and meaningful use of EHRs, but also resources that are available to assist providers with the transition.

These resources are available through the establishment of regional extension centers (RECs) to provide consulting services, education, and other assistance to providers for the adoption of EHRs and the achievement of meaningful use.

Although REC dollars provide support in the transition process, the funds cannot be used to purchase an EHR system. Other opportunities may provide discounts or assistance with the purchase of a system. Many hospitals are choosing "preferred" vendors that will offer significant discounts to physician practices. Typically, most hospitals choose vendors on the basis of compatibility with hospital software systems, so care should be exercised in choosing such a system simply on the basis of the discount.

Any software vendor should go through the screening process you create, even if offered by the hospital. Instances have occurred in which physicians have purchased software from a "preferred vendor" only to find out that the EHR system could not perform all the functions necessary in an office setting. In addition, there have been cases in which the system that is implemented looks nothing like the demo the practice saw and getting it set up is more difficult and/or expensive than anticipated because the vendor charged significant fees to make the system look like the practice thought it should look. In some cases, the EHR was so difficult and/or expensive that the practice ended up purchasing a different system altogether after months of transition upheaval.

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