Implementing an EHR System: A Step-by-Step Guide

Group of employees looking at a laptop

Many healthcare organizations are making the shift from paper records to an electronic health record (EHR) system, and it’s no wonder why. Implementing an EHR system allows healthcare providers, including those in behavioral health and human services, to access and manage patients' medical information securely and efficiently. EHRs typically include a patient's demographics, medical history, medications, lab results, and patient-derived health information. 

Moreover, a comprehensive EHR system can extend a patient’s access to care with digital tools like patient portals, automated scheduling features, appointment reminders, and telehealth capabilities. As a result, healthcare providers can communicate and document in real-time, improving patient care coordination.

Implementing an EHR system can take eight months or longer, so it’s critical to plan ahead. With that in mind, we’ve outlined an implementation strategy that you can follow as part of your own plan. It begins with identifying your needs and goals, choosing the right EHR system, and preparing for training, ongoing maintenance, and support.

Assess Your Baseline and Set Expectations

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Assessing your current technology infrastructure and conducting a cost-benefit analysis are key steps in the planning and preparation phase for a new EHR software implementation. Here’s a closer look at how to do this.

Assess Current Tech Infrastructure

Start by evaluating your current hardware and software systems to assess the existing infrastructure. This process includes looking at your organization's current computer systems, servers, and network infrastructure to determine if they can support a new EHR system. 

Your organization should also evaluate its current data storage capacity to ensure sufficient space for data transfer and storing the increased amount of data generated by the new EHR system. Consider whether an on-site or cloud-based EHR system will work best. Additionally, you will need to make sure you have the internet connectivity and bandwidth to support a new EHR system.

Conduct a Cost-Benefit Analysis 

Conducting a cost-benefit analysis is an essential step in determining the overall financial impact of the new EHR system implementation. This means evaluating the initial costs of the EHR system, including the purchase price of software, hardware, and services. It also includes reviewing the ongoing costs of maintaining and updating the EHR system and the expenses associated with staff training and support. 

Organizations should also examine the potential benefits of an EHR system, such as improvements in the quality, efficiency, and security of care, as well as potential cost savings from less manual charting and paperwork.

Compare the costs of the EHR system to the potential benefits, both in terms of financial savings and improvements in the quality of care. This will help your company determine whether the investment in the new EHR system is financially viable.

Choose the Right Vendor and Software

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When reviewing potential vendors, start by looking through their website, reading customer reviews and testimonials, and contacting other behavioral health and human services organizations that have implemented similar EHR systems. Be sure to schedule demos and ask for vendor references. This step can help your organization better understand the vendor's customer service responsiveness and support capabilities, which is critical for successful EHR implementation.

The right EHR software can streamline workflows by automating many manual tasks and providing a centralized location for patient information. Some EHR functionality to streamline workflows include:

  • Automated appointment scheduling, which can help reduce the time spent on manual scheduling and reduce the risk of double booking.
  • Automatically generated treatment notes and common order sets, which can reduce the time spent on manual charting and ensure that all patient information is current.
  • Automated medication management to reduce the risk of medication errors and ensure that patients receive the correct medication at the right time.
  • Telehealth capabilities, which can decrease patient wait times and increase access to patient care.
  • Real-time reporting and analytics to help organizations track and analyze patient data, identify trends and patterns, and allow stakeholders to make data-driven decisions.

In addition to evaluating the vendor and system, your organization should consider the system's scalability, security, and compliance with regulations. Scalability refers to the system's ability to adapt and grow as your organization's needs change. 

Security refers to the system's ability to protect patient data and comply with HIPAA privacy regulations. Compliance with regulations such as HIPAA and Meaningful Use is essential for behavioral health practices, as failure to comply can result in significant fines and penalties.

Set a Timeline for Training and Implementation

It’s essential to create a project plan and timeline to ensure implementing an EHR system goes smoothly. A comprehensive plan includes outlining tasks and milestones, assigning responsibilities to different members of the implementation team, and setting contingencies for delays or complications. You’ll also need to allow time for system optimization and testing to make sure the level of usability meets your needs.

Before you go live, focus on EHR training for your staff. Include classes for all users on the system's capabilities, features, user interface, data entry, navigation, and reporting. After training, work with your vendor to test and fine-tune the new EHR system before rolling it out.

Ensure You Have Ongoing Maintenance and Support

For long-term successful EHR adoption, create a plan for ongoing maintenance and support with your EHR vendor by establishing a clear line of communication. Identify key contacts at the vendor company, such as a dedicated account manager or support team. Set dates for regular check-ins to discuss any issues or concerns. 

Ask about maintenance and regularly scheduled updates (such as data backups) to the EHR system, as well as upgrades, to ensure that the system remains compliant with regulations, reduces downtime, and meets your organization's changing needs over time. Establish a plan for ongoing staff training and support for new users.

Consider Implementing an EHR From ContinuumCloud

ContinuumCloud offers an all-in-one cloud-based EHR system that provides many features and capabilities to support behavioral health and human services (BHHS). In fact, it’s the only EHR platform created specifically for BHHS. Here’s a brief rundown of how ContinuumCloud supports a seamless and successful EHR implementation.

Data migration: ContinuumCloud provides data migration services to help organizations seamlessly transfer data from their existing systems. This can help minimize the EHR implementation's impact on staff members and patients and ensures that important data is not lost during the transition.

Training and support: ContinuumCloud provides extensive training and support options to implement your new EHR system. Services include online training modules, user guides, and a dedicated support team that is available to answer questions and provide assistance for clinical staff and office administration.

Integration with other systems: ContinuumCloud’s EHR system was designed for maximum interoperability with other systems, such as pharmacies, electronic medical records (EMR), practice management systems, and telehealth platforms, which can improve the coordination of care and streamline the EHR implementation process.

Compliance: ContinuumCloud is compliant with regulations such as HIPAA and ensures that all data is secure and protected.

Reporting and analytics: ContinuumCloud features robust reporting and analytics tools that can help organizations track and analyze patient data and identify trends and patterns for data-driven decision-making during and after rollout.

Implement an EHR Built for Behavioral Health

Implementing an EHR: employees working and using computers

Implementing an EHR is a multilayered process that requires careful planning and preparation. It’s essential for healthcare systems to assess their current technology infrastructure, conduct a cost-benefit analysis, and choose the right EHR platform and vendor that meets their specific needs and goals. Furthermore, it's vital to consider scalability, security, and compliance with regulations to ensure that the EHR system can meet your company’s needs over time. 

The implementation process includes establishing a project plan and timeline, training staff, testing, and fine-tuning the system before going live. Ongoing maintenance and support are crucial for ensuring long-term success by having a clear line of communication with the EHR vendor, a plan for ongoing maintenance and updates, and a plan for ongoing staff training and support.

ContinuumCloud provides a comprehensive EHR system that can help you implement a new system quickly and efficiently, with the ability to customize it to your specific needs, integrate it with other systems, and provide ongoing support and training. We look forward to hearing from you when you’re ready to learn more.

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