Electronic health records (EHR) — alternatively known as electronic medical records (EMR) — let hospitals and other healthcare organizations quickly and securely access their patients’ medical histories.

Be it diagnoses, treatment plans, lab or test results, allergies or radiology images, physicians can get a full and up-to-date look at their patients’ issues. From accurately documenting and billing to making the treatment workflow more efficient, hospitals and clinics are using EHR to improve their quality of care and avoid waste in expenditure and resource use.

As of 2017, 67% of healthcare providers reported using EHR. However, slow EHR connection speeds, unreliability and insecurity are obstacles preventing providers from delivering the best care possible and control their costs.

Ideally, healthcare organizations would have conducted EHR readiness assessments to identify and mitigate potential issues — such as ageing hardware — before implementing EHR.

However, not every EHR implementation is perfect and, as a result, additional improvement is necessary to achieve the desired workflow and efficiency outcomes.

A common reason for this issue is that many practices embraced off-the-shelf, cookie-cutter EHR solutions as a means for quick implementation. But, not only have these providers failed to achieve their desired outcomes with EHR, but their staff are now struggling with new inefficiencies, forcing decision-makers to review and salvage their costly investments.

According to a study by KLAS, a healthcare IT research firm, the problems surrounding EHR are not limited to just “too many clicks” (or a tedious user interface), but “from a perception of having lost control over the care they (clinicians) were trained to deliver” (EHR Intelligence).

This is where EHR optimization is critical.

What is EHR Optimization?

EHR Intelligence defines EHR optimization as “the process of refining an install of EHR software to serve a practice’s own needs and which tends to focus on clinical productivity and efficiency.”

In other words, EHR optimization aims to reduce the time your physicians are spending trying to retrieve EHRs, reduce your administrative burden and make EHR usability easier. This is done by finding and resolving technical bottlenecks such as aging hardware, user experience issues and other problems taking over the time of physicians, nurses and administrators.

Healthcare organizations are understanding the value of EHR optimization. In a 2017 survey of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) by KPMG, 38% of the organization’s members said they are prioritizing EHR optimization for their organizations.

The capital investment priorities of CHIME members (2017-2020)

why you need to optimize EHR

Source: KPMG

Your organization’s EHR optimization program will depend on the size of the practice as well as its specialization and compliance requirements. For example, the operational needs of a general hospital are different from those of a small pediatric practice.

Why You Need an EHR Optimization Strategy

If your EHR system has fallen short of expectations or your return-on-investment (ROI) goals, then you need an EHR optimization strategy. Not having one in place at this stage puts you at continued risk of losing revenue through delays in providing health services, additional time by clinicians (to compensate for lost time spent on EHR issues) and other inefficiencies.

What to Achieve in Your EHR/EMR Optimization Efforts

According to KLAS, your EHR optimization strategy should aim to achieve improvements in the following areas: education, customization and governance (Healthcare IT News).

Education

Inefficiencies stemming from user experience difficulties can in great part be addressed through training and education. Clinicians should spend at least 6 hours in classes through the year and, ideally, be led in-person by other clinicians from your organization.

The reason for intensive, on-site training by internal staff is to ensure that people who properly understand how your doctors, nurses and other clinicians work are defining best practices and adjusting the EHR to your operational realities. These differences are not only relevant between different providers, but can exist between different wards or departments in the same hospital.

Customization

You must ensure that your EHR software is designed and configured to meet your healthcare organization’s specific requirements. The challenge with one-size-fits-all EHR solutions is that some critical functions do not fit with your staff’s workflow(s).

Your focus shouldn’t solely be on the features, but your operational goals.

For example, your clinicians may not be asking for easier multi-tasking, but rather, fewer and less intrusive alerts.

However, any customization on your EHR system must be done through your IT channels with rigorous testing and training. Too much and/or unauthorized customization can cause problems for your end-users and put the EHR system at risk of being unreliable (EHR Intelligence).

Governance

One of the mistakes many healthcare providers make when initially implementing an EHR system is that they fail to delegate leadership (and in some cases, delegate it incorrectly).

As we had stated earlier about implementation, your EHR optimization team must include its primary users, i.e., “a physician, a head nurse, a super user, an operations team member, a back-office staff member, and a technical member of your IT department.”

Technology

Although it was not explicitly stated in the KLAS study, technology is a critical consideration.

Your EHR optimization efforts will be for nought if they fail to maintain HIPAA compliance or if the hardware driving your EHR is too slow. Likewise, your workflow may be inefficient due to a lack of certain hardware (e.g., printers and monitors).

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You Need Experienced IT Support

Your EHR optimization strategy is a critical element improving your hospital’s efficiency and to accruing ROI on the original EHR investment. However, IT expertise is essential because EHR relies on a combination of IT hardware, software and processes to function.

Starting with auditing your existing system and diagnosing the causes of your inefficiencies to identifying and configuring solutions, you need an experienced IT partner.

True North brings over 14 years of healthcare IT experience to the table, providing our clients with proven expertise on auditing, implementing and optimizing their EMR/EHR systems.

Contact us today to see how we will optimize your EMR/EHR systems to free your clinicians’ time from dealing with technical issues and, instead, focus on delivering health services.