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How Health Orgs Realize EHR Benefits, Quality Improvements

Healthcare organizations need to create strategies in order to realize full EHR benefits and create quality improvements, according to an Impact Advisors whitepaper.

By Sara Heath

For healthcare organizations to benefit from EHR use and achieve quality improvements, they need to engage in robust strategic planning, articulating their goals and how they will achieve them, according to healthcare IT consultancy Impact Advisors.

Realizing clinical benefits from EHRs is a significant problem throughout the healthcare industry, the company claims in a recent whitepaper. Although ONC data shows that 96 percent of hospitals now have certified EHR technology, Impact Advisors says 60 percent of them haven’t seen clinical benefits from EHR use.

And providers are falling short for a number of reasons. They may have failed to select key performance indicators or stopped working toward improvements once the EHR implementation was complete. EHR implementation strategies may have proven counterproductive to clinical workflows.

“First, in a rush to get to implementation, little time and few resources are allocated to investigating or optimizing existing workflows and the related build necessary to enable optimized workflows,” the authors of the whitepaper explain. “It is these processes that are critical to ultimately improving outcomes and KPI performance. Success in realizing benefits is further hindered by the inevitable contraction of resources post-implementation to do ‘optimization.’”

In order to mitigate this issue, healthcare organizations must slow down and take time to consider their clinical benefits goals. In doing so, these organizations have to understand that benefits are net positive changes in outcomes, require executive support, take time and are a continuous effort, and require actual workflow and practice strategy change.

As the authors emphasize, EHR adoption alone will not create clinical benefits.

“EHR implementation by itself is insufficient to deliver business benefits. Technology enables positive changes to the way people work,” the whitepaper states. “It is those positive changes that ultimately lead to benefits realization.”

Ultimately, healthcare organizations should create an EHR clinical benefits management program, the whitepaper states. In order for these programs to succeed, they must include certain characteristics.

First, EHR benefits programs must identify specific benefits the organization would like to achieve. EHR benefits should align with the hospital’s strategic plan.

"The key to identifying appropriate benefits is having a keen understanding of what it is going to take for the organization to be successful in the next three to five years and beyond,” the authors contend. “This requires an intimate understanding of the strategic plan, and for that reason it is critical that senior leadership be involved in the process of selecting benefits.”

These EHR benefits may include revenue cycle improvement, quality and safety improvement, boosted provider and patient experience, building a foundation for value-based payments, and reducing medical costs.

Second, organizations must define how they will track and manage key quality indicators.

Third, hospital health IT leaders must ensure that EHR implementation plans take these benefits goals into consideration. By training users in these goals, quelling any user resistance, and setting up dashboards to monitor progress, health IT teams can ensure the actual EHR technology is ready to help the organization reach its clinical benefits goals.

Last, hospitals must implement plans to ensure longevity for these goals. Once EHR benefits have been realized, organization leaders should transition the tasks to the operations team to ensure long-term sustainment.

Healthcare organizations that do implement key EHR benefits strategies may find themselves poised to transition to value-based care models. With EHR technology adjusted to the necessary workflows required for value-based care, organizations could be better fit to succeed financially.

“With the acceleration of transition to value-based payment, systems can’t continue to operate in the same ways they once did,” the authors maintain. “Healthcare organizations must begin to leverage process improvement and realize benefits from technology investments in order to survive in this new paradigm of value-based care.”

EHR benefits will not automatically come to healthcare organizations, so strong emphasis on organization-wide strategy is critical.

“Realizing clinical benefits from EHR implementation or optimization requires careful planning and expert delivery. It requires executive engagement and robust change management,” the whitepaper concludes. “Most of all, it requires an understanding that achieving benefits is a long-term, continuous process that must be measured, monitored and fostered in order to achieve success.”

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