Given my recent postings on how to ease into technology before jumping head-first into EMRs, many readers wrote back asking additional questions about how else they should get ready for EMRs. To make sure readers get the best software selection advice, I reached out to Sheldon Needle, who is president and founder of CTSGuides.com, publishers of software evaluation materials. They have a free Medical Software Selection kit for indepth reviews of leading EMR, scheduling, and billing software, performance ratings for over 800 features, and a template to plan and manage your software demos. Sheldon’s been helping companies buy software for many years and his advice on what to do even before you choose your software is priceless. Here’s what Sheldon had to say:
The reason to purchase EMR or any medical software is to make your practice work better for you, your staff, and your patients. Keeping this at the forefront of your medical software decision will put the brakes on foolish purchases that may offer glitter but don’t offer your practice enhanced functionality and don’t offer your patients improvements in the quality of care they receive.
Though there is no need to leap blindly into an EMR no matter how many incentives are offered to you, you can be quite sure than an EMR is in your future. There are certainly preparatory steps to take for a transition to EMR. Even if you are a year or two away from making your EMR / EHR software buying decision, there are many things you can do now to make the eventual medical software implementation easier. Though the purchase should not be rushed, the transition is going to happen, so get ready now.
As the marines say, “semper preparatus” always be prepared. Here are ways to begin your implementation even before you know which EMR system you will choose:
- Make sure that everyone in your organization is extremely comfortable with using his or her computer. Not just your desktop computer, but your laptop and tablet PC need to be easily managed by all hands on board. Support staff – administrators, receptionists, sonographers, and x-ray technicians, and nurses who already use many electronic instruments for tests and for administrative tasks – are perfectly comfortable with using different types of computers, but many doctors are not. If your physicians will not be comfortable using your EMR and its associated technology, the war is lost before it has begun. Which brings us to the next readiness step:
- Your medical practice requires what the marketing people call “buy-in”! Everyone has to be on board with the plan to move to an EMR. If they are not, discuss their reasons for opposing the move. Often, it is because of lack of comfort with the technology. Some vendors will offer preliminary seminars on EMR in order to interest prospective clients. Offer one to your employees, so that they can see the types of change their use of EMR will bring.
- Talk to colleagues who have already made the move to EMR or other medical software. Find out which features they like, and which they don’t. Find out how difficult it is to maintain HIPAA compliance with different systems. Find out which vendors offered good support and training.
- Read medical software reviews. There is a tremendous amount of valuable software information available at no cost to you online. You can learn about different features, and think about how they might be used in your practice.
- Consider which parts of your practice are most amenable to going electronic and which are least amenable. EMR and medical software is not an all or nothing proposition. It could be that your practice should not be moving all of its functions to electronic media just yet. And it almost surely should not be moving all modular functions at once. Discuss this question with key people in your organization: your medical billing specialists, your nurses, and your doctors.
- Consider whether your might want an in-house client-server solution, or a web based Software-As-A-Service solution that you lease and log into from any location. EMR and medical software solutions like this are becoming more feasible and are often more affordable than having your own in-house server and having to manage security and backup of your data.
- If your medical billing is not yet electronic, this may well be the way to begin your transition to medical software. Your medical billing must become electronic almost before anything else. Medical billing presents the quickest ROI of all EMR modules, because it allows for quick turnaround on claims denials, code lookup, and an opportunity to be more easily HIPAA compliant than your paper files allow. Prepare your staff and data to migrate to a medical billing module as quickly as possible. Otherwise, because of reporting requirements and claims processing alone, your bottom line will be compromised.
- Identify an in-house leader and liaison. If you already have an IT person on board, and he has the people skills as well as the technical skills to act as a liaison when you are planning your purchase, ask her to read up different EMR configurations, on implementation schemes, and EMR priorities in relation to your practice. If you are a large enough practice, identify a physician who you think can be the physician liaison for the implementation. Give these people time and space to do some research – talking to colleagues, attending free or low cost seminars, reading, etc.
- Make use of your scanner today! If you haven’t already, buy a good quality scanner that is easy to use, and make sure everyone know how to use it. Start scanning your newer patient documents now so that when you actually get to implementation stage, you do not have to re-invent the wheel scan every piece of material within your archives and records.
These preparatory steps will make your move to an EMR simpler, and should give you some insight into criteria for choosing the right EMR. Never buy into an all-or-nothing strategy for implementation. You cannot expect to change the entire workflow of your practice when you implement an EMR – and you do not want to. You need to follow the demands of your practice, when reasonable. And most of all, you need to work with your staff as a teamso that when you find the right EMR you can begin with a full complement of invested, able people who want your investment of money, time and effort to make sense.