Electronic Health Records

Adoption & Implementation News

How providers transform EHR implementation into EHR adoption

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Are EHRs delivering on their promise? For years, the healthcare community and patients alike have heard the promise of electronic health records. Vendors, the media, politicians, policy makers and countless others have preached that EHRs would transform healthcare by providing access to comprehensive medical information that is secure, standardized, and shared. Ultimately, EHRs would help deliver better, safer, and higher-quality healthcare.

That was and still is the goal. But, what is the reality — are EHRs delivering on their promise and are healthcare organizations getting what they signed up for?

According to the Department of Health & Human Services, more than half of all doctors’ offices and 80 percent of eligible hospitals are using EHR systems today. But there is a world of difference to the healthcare practitioner and the patient as an organization progresses from simply turning the EHR system on to using it proficiently and finally reaching the optimization phase — the stage at which EHRs work so efficiently and effectively that healthcare providers can truly spend more time caring for their patients.

The first step, implementation, happens when the EHR system is installed and live — an important milestone from a technology perspective, but only a small step in the adoption process. Once the system is up and running, healthcare organizations must work toward adoption. Adoption is the continuous process of keeping users informed and engaged, providing innovative ways for them to become proficient in new tasks quickly, measuring changes in critical outcomes, and striving to sustain that level of performance long-term. Unlike implementation, adoption is not a single event but a process that happens over time.

Optimization or staying at a high level of adoption long-term is the final phase in the journey, but getting there is no easy task. In fact, most healthcare organizations have not and may not ever achieve EHR optimization.

Why? There are many factors that can erode adoption of an EHR system. Factors like staffing or leadership changes, upgrades or advancements to the EHR technology itself, and changes to meaningful use requirements can all set an organization back in the adoption process. Most healthcare organizations would fully admit that they could be using their EHR system faster and more effectively.

So, how do they get there and truly get the most out of their EHR system? Healthcare organizations that have achieve optimization all share a few key adoption elements, including:

Engaged and clinically-focused leadership: Organizations that achieve optimization demonstrate engaged and clinically focused leadership. Leaders such as the chief medical information officer (CMIO) and chief nursing officer (CNO) must be involved to determine the quality of care patients receive. Furthermore, these leaders must make adjustments to their EHR systems accordingly by refining workflows, templates, utilization, and reporting to meet their organizations’ clinical and financial goals.

Targeted education and communication: To remain at a high level of adoption over time, healthcare organizations must provide targeted education and communication for their EHR system. When system upgrades are released, they must efficiently educate end-users when needed to alleviate reductions in proficiency and productivity.

Comprehensive metrics: Healthcare organizations that have achieve optimization move past the superficial use of EHRs and can analyze data entered in a meaningful way that can be used to impact productivity and outcomes. The EHR is of little value if the data is not clinically valuable or left unused.

Sustained planning and focus:  Organizations that maximize the effectiveness of their EHR system have made a commitment to EHR planning and focus. Change occurs frequently in healthcare, so system optimization requires preparation, ongoing adjustment, and real-time communication.

When healthcare organizations use an EHR system to its full potential, it means less redundancy, fewer errors, reduced costs, and capitalization on the promise of a higher level of care. To make this a reality, organizations must take the journey beyond EHR implementation through adoption, traversing the valleys of the inevitable (and necessary) technology advancements and upgrades.

Although optimization is not a final destination, it is the mechanism that delivers on the promise of patient and financial outcomes. And, while the journey is arduous, healthcare organizations can be assured that reaching optimization and achieving the ultimate promise of EHRs is entirely possible.

Heather Haugen, PhD, is the managing director for The Breakaway Group, A Xerox Company, which provides a research-based approach that allows for healthcare professionals to quickly adopt new technologies. She can be reached at (303) 483-4300 or [email protected]

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