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7 Ways to Optimize Your EHR

Hattie Hayes

Written by Hattie Hayes

So you finally picked out your EHR system and think you made the right choice for your practice. The hard part’s over, right?

You’ve probably already realized that adopting an EHR is only the beginning of the challenge. The crucial factor in EHR success is implementing it into your practice successfully. EHRs, like most digital technology, can make your office staffs’ lives easier. But that's true only if you put in the time and work to really learn, and optimize your EHR for your practice.

Can you transition to a paperless system right away, or will you need to do it gradually? Is it time to give your workflow a checkup? Whether you’ve just adopted a new EHR or are looking for ways to use your current system more effectively, these 7 tips can boost your EHR efficiency.

1. Know your EHR in & out

You likely already know your EHR's basic features. But do you know all it's ins and outs? Have you really figured out all it can do? Only you can know what tools will best suit your needs. Figure out what your EHR is capable of, and what tasks will need non-electronic workarounds. Dedicate time to really knowing the features you'll need to sculpt your workflow around.

2. Adapt your workflow to your EHR, not the other way around

Instead of focusing on how you can fit your EHR into your existing practice workflow, rework your processes around your EHR. Having access to digital data comes with a lot of benefits and will make many of your current paper-centric practice workflows unnecessary. Focus your workflow around electronic data, not paper. This can mean rewriting your protocol, reassigning tasks and completing steps in a different order--all changes that can be hard to acclimate to. But remember, it’s easier in the long-term to work with your EHR rather than jamming it into an old work model. Troy Russell, MD, writes for the Kevin MD blog,

“We have clinic workflows as if nothing has changed in the last 50 years.  Some of our current clinic model practices are outdated and inefficient...New technology is only useful when it is applied to improve a situation or solve a problem.”

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3. Establish metrics

To gauge your EHR's success, come up with ways to evaluate your practice's progress. Some examples from the United States Department of Health and Human Services include:

  • Pharmacy to provider call-backs
  • Medication errors (pre- and post-EHR)
  • Data entry backlog
  • Revenues realized

Those metrics, and others, can be found in a document here. Analyze these monthly and over a broad span of time. Remember that EHR implementation is a big change, and it'll have a big impact. Benefit your practice by charting that impact - it'll show that the work of using an EHR is worth it.

4. Don't be afraid to change

After you establish a new workflow, you’ll know the daily processes your staff will go through. Diagram the different ways you implement your EHR, and be prepared for those practices to change over time. Randy Van Egdom, in a guest post for Electronic Health Reporter, explains that constantly adapting your technology usage is crucial: “Check what has worked for you and what has failed, what has increased the revenue and what hasn’t.

Since you'll have performance metrics in place, if something isn't working, you'll know what to change. It's much easier to fix small parts of the equation than to make drastic overhauls.

5. Know your team

Different staff members will have varying skill sets, and likewise, different EHR systems have different functions. Some of your staff won't be comfortable doing everything through an EHR at first, so don't train your whole team the same way. Consider your team's strengths as they functioned pre-EHR, and decide how they should function now. How do members of your staff use preexisting technology differently? Don’t assume that everyone will use new technology the same way. Find out different ways each member of your team can use new tech. Set individualized metrics for your staff.

6. Give patients agency

Meaningful use is all about getting your patients engaged and using the technology. Encourage your patients to get on your patient portal and use secure messaging to contact you. Post patient-specific resources and information, such as showing trends in patients’ health to help them understand their habits. Providing patients with access to their medical records can also go a long way in getting them engaged in using new technology. Additionally, studies have demonstrated that patients want to add to their own health records, and that allowing ownership increases patients’ confidence in their self-care. Sharing digital records will help your patient understand the decisions you make as a physician. That understanding is key to a trusting relationship and gives your patients power over their own care.

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7. Update your documentation, too

On ModernMedicine.com, Peter Basch, MD, chair of the American College of Physician’s Medical Informatics Committee, says “You don’t have to ask the patient to stop talking so you can type grammatically correct sentences such as ‘Patients has had a sore throat since Tuesday.’ We certainly didn’t do that on paper. We scribbled TUES-sore throat. You don’t have to do any more on the computer.”

Shoot for accuracy, not hyper-thoroughness, in your documentation. Or, if you'd prefer, dedicate a staff member as a scribe so you can give patients your full attention. This is a good way to utilize your team's different strengths. Alternatively, dictation services can be helpful and time-saving. Just be sure to look over the automated notes after-even machines aren't perfect!

With a dedicated plan, your EHR can bring about real change and enormous success. It's ok to be intimidated. Approach EHR systems like you would any other problem in your practice: with plenty of research, confidence and creativity to back you up!

How have you optimized your EHR? Let us know in the comments!



Published: March 10, 2015