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Best Practices for Approaching EHR Optimization Projects

"The technology like many things does amazing things, but it’s just a tool. You have to learn how to use it just like everything else."

By Sara Heath

EHR optimization projects are set to be an industry focus in light of the increased adoption of health IT. This focus is perhaps a natural transition, as providers are realizing that just because a healthcare organization adopts an EHR does not mean they are gleaning the most they can from it.

ehr optimization

EHR optimization strategies are important options for organizations to look into. Optimizing an EHR system can help enhance a healthcare organization’s revenue cycle, patient care, or even contribute to better clinical analytics, depending on the focus of the optimization project.

In fact, studies show that EHR optimization is slated to be one of the highest priorities for healthcare organizations in 2016. As more organizations complete EHR adoption and become comfortable with their systems, they see that it is time to develop strategies to better use this technology.

Below, we list the best strategies for beginning EHR optimization.

Reassess your EHR system

READ MORE: UVA Researchers Recommend Using EHRs for Reduced Medical Testing

When organizations adopt a new EHR, it is natural that they learn the bare basics and take some time to adjust to using the new technology. However, after using the EHR for a while, it is important to reassess how the system is working within the care setting and looking for ways to more impactfully use it.

To begin EHR optimization, organizations should examine how the EHR has functioned within the organization thus far. IT staff can look at how the interface is functioning, financial support can examine the revenue cycle payoff the system yields, and physicians can examine the system’s clinical effectiveness.

From there, staff can develop optimization plans centered around the organization’s goals. For example, if an organization wants to optimize its EHR to improve revenue cycle results, it can concentrate on optimizing the system for clinical documentation and coding improvement.

Identify staff needs

Although looking at EHR outcomes to determine opportunities for optimization is important, it is also useful to consult with EHR users to find user-oriented optimization solutions.

READ MORE: KLAS Report Names Top 3 Best Practices for EHR Optimization

Emory Healthcare is an example of this approach through its recent physician-facing EHR optimization project.

As Emory Healthcare CMIO Julie Hollberg, MD, explained to EHRIntelligence.com in a past interview, the EHR provides a great framework for physicians, but optimization is important for teaching them how to engage with the interface and the information on it.

"The technology like many things does amazing things, but it’s just a tool. You have to learn how to use it just like everything else. We have coupled this with required training so that people have a skeleton from which to hang new knowledge from the coaches when they are in clinic," Hollberg explained.

Also important to user-facing optimization is strong support, according to Hollberg. Emory made sure there was consistent communication between operations staff and users to ensure adequate optimization.

"During the week of go-live we have twice a day conference calls with the physician lead, clinical operations and administrative practice leads to go over the ongoing list of what the issues are and be able to react to those real time," she noted. "The week after go-live, we move from move from twice a day conference calls to three times a week. However, the coaches are there on an ongoing basis and have a daily meeting or debrief and issues that are a problem are escalated to us."

READ MORE: 92% of Nurses Dissatisfied with EHR Technology, Health IT

Carefully cultivate your EHR optimization team

Although EHR optimization sounds as though it could primarily engage the EHR vendor, it is in fact a multi-disciplinary effort. Impact Advisors’ Physician Executive Tanya Edwards, MD, MMM, told us in a recent interview that it takes several team members to implement an EHR optimization strategy.

“Definitely, there is vendor involvement as far as improving usability. But there's a lot that's involved just from an individual organization standpoint,” Edwards explained. “There is a lot that health systems can do themselves as far as usability, taking a look at what those workflows really are. Sometimes, that involves looking at the clinical workflow, streamlining it, and then having IT support that. But sometimes it's really just inside IT and how you choose to build within the product.”

Although the optimization team should ideally be multi-faceted, Edwards told us that these teams should be led by operations experts who will  not only be able to accurately execute the work, but direct where the work should go next.

“It is a multi-disciplinary team that needs to be operationally-led because it is the people doing the work who understand the work,” Edwards said. “They understand why things need to be done in a certain order. They understand what the barriers are. Once those workflows are developed, then it's up to IT to come in and try to support that.”

As stated above, several industry experts predict that EHR optimization will be a main focus for healthcare organizations in 2016. Because of the lack of major project slated for the upcoming year, Edwards says she agrees with those predictions.

"It seems like we may have an opportunity in the next year to have a breather, be able to focus a little bit more on being able to optimize these systems, and really try to get the value out of the millions and millions of dollars that we have put in."

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