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As a healthcare organization, innovation and change can be a challenge.  And while many changes are forced, either by government mandate, financial incentive, or patient care necessity, each organization must make a series of decisions that will dictate their technological, financial and cultural future. Though the EHR journey, from selection and implementation to maintenance and upgrades, is not easy, it is necessary.  In this series, we reached out to Terri Couts, VP of Epic Application Programs at Guthrie Clinic, for her thoughts on the end-to-end EHR journey.

EHR Vendor Selection

The easiest part about selecting an EHR vendor is making the decision that you need one.  The selection itself can be, and in my opinion, should be a challenging task.  No matter what vendor you choose, you can be sure that it will be a large financial investment. In the past, organizations would tend to steer towards the “best of breed” approach.  This approach can lead an organization down the path of silo systems and disjointed processes creating additional work and costs.

There are many vendors who deliver an excellent product, but do you understand what your requirements are of the system?  Defining the scope, requirements, and the desired outcomes are all part of the first step.  Many users look to the technology to address a need and ask questions like “what can Epic do for me?”  However, I would challenge our users to understand their requirements ahead of time and use those requirements to drive your selection process.  List out the requirements and make sure to have a rating scale for each when you meet with vendors.

I have found that attending several vendor demos can help you identify the requirements that you ultimately want to have in your EHR.  If they are good vendors, they have already done a great deal of research for their development.  Use their investment to your advantage.  Participate in as many demo sessions as you need to come up with a robust and complete RFP.

Also, make sure you have the right stakeholders at the table when defining the requirements.  Be careful not to get sidetracked by the shiny new object and focus on how it can align with the organization’s goals, value, and mission.  Vendors are good at showing the functionality around the new buzzwords such as big data, population health, and the newest artificial intelligence features.  However, if they cannot meet the organization’s core function needs, none of that will matter.

Every organization’s needs are different based on their type of patients, variation in care, location, and finances.  Therefore, there is not a single checklist that all organizations can use.  However, I have found that the more integration the system offers, the better. Taking away silos within departments allows for the highest level of transparency driving an increase in patient safety and outcomes.

Again, I believe the hardest part of selecting a new EHR is identifying what you want out of the system.  Once you know that, you can make the system work for you and instead of you working for the system.  The decision to implement a new EHR is one you will have to live with for a long time.  It’s an investment in your organization’s future. Put the effort and work in ahead of time to be sure the investment is something you can live with and scale.

The EHR journey can span years and effectively dictates, at least in part, the healthcare organization’s path and culture.  This series examines the experiences of healthcare leaders that have been through it.  Whether you’re selecting an EHR for the first time or replacing an existing system, the EHR journey is a daunting one.  These lessons learned could be priceless to you and your organization.

Check back soon as the next post in this series will cover workflows and their importance throughout your EHR Journey.

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Terri Couts is the VP of Clinical Systems and Epic Program at The Guthrie Clinic which serves the Twin Tiers region of Northern Pennsylvania and Southern New York. She has a proven track record of excellent service in healthcare IT and EHR implementation.

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