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It is often said that implementing a new electronic health record (EHR) is just the beginning of a journey that will lead to better patient care, greater efficiencies and improved return on investment. It is true that the work will continue, so it is worth pondering how you will approach the post go-live world.  It’s not enough to install EHR software.  It could be argued that tailoring the EHR to your organizational needs and implementing new functionality is where the real work lies.  This much is clear though, EHR optimization is vital to your organization’s successful long-term use of the EHR.  Below are some tips to help you think through the challenges ahead.

Plan Early
Start planning for how you will approach and manage your IT investments early.  Putting your plan together even before your implementation begins is not too soon.  Your plan should include an outline of what you will undertake during the implementation and what can wait, or should wait, until after the implementation phase is complete.  For example, it may make sense to wait and deploy some population health tools after go-live.

Tie Plans and Programs to Organizational Strategy
IT strategies should mirror the strategies of the organization.  For example, many organizations are actively exploring mergers and acquisitions.  IT leaders should understand the outlook for the organization and any challenges that lie ahead and have a plan to grow the IT environment appropriately when the EHR optimization phase begins.

Establish Strong Governance
Having a strong governance structure from the beginning is critical, but tweak the structure as needed during both implementation and post go-live phases.  The decisions that need to be made post go-live will likely be different from those made during the implementation phase.  Adjust the membership on the committee when needed to ensure that the proper stakeholders are represented and engaged.

Manage Change
Change management is a necessary activity throughout the implementation and as the EHR evolves post go-live.  Not only will the business practices and workflows change but people’s roles will change as well.  It is important to communicate early and often regarding changes so that employees understand the “why” of the change and “how” the change will affect them.

Standardize and Innovate
This topic may seem like an oxymoron – it is not.  Standardizing where it makes sense such as standardizing workflows, project management toolsets and methodologies, will allow for a stable environment post go-live. Stability lends itself to innovation because chaos is contained and a certain amount of predictability occurs. This stability will allow creativity and innovation to thrive.  One area to pay close attention to is enterprise reporting.  Resist the temptation to merely recreate your current reports and instead approach report development and distribution as a way to improve operations and show off the power of your new system.

Contain Costs
Once the initial, and substantial, cost of implementation is behind you, the CFO and other executives will look for cost containment, even reductions.  Consider strategies to contain costs such as targeted outsourcing. Explore cost reduction strategies as well, such as consolidation and eliminating legacy systems as quickly as possible.

IT Shift
The IT staff will be exhausted after many months of intense pressure to get the system up and running smoothly.  The pressure will continue post go-live as EHR optimization becomes the focus.  Be sensitive to your staff’s needs, both inside and outside of IT, as they refresh and regroup.  Have a plan in place to maintain proper staffing as well as give your teams some much needed time away.  HR departments can help with this plan. Also, added skills such as reporting and analytics, will be in higher demand during the EHR optimization phase as greater emphasis is placed on data and its value in improving patient care and operations.

Conversion and Archiving
Have a plan for the method and technology needed to convert data from your legacy systems to the new systems early on.  You need to specify the minimum data set that you will convert.  In addition, some departments, for example, Oncology, may have special conversion requirements.   Also, figure out an archiving solution well ahead of time.  The archiving solution should account for easy access to the data that did not convert to the new system.

As with all EHR changes, proper guidance and preparation can be the difference between success and failure.  The outline above can get you started, but also consider outside resources such as those at Optimum Healthcare IT. Experts in the art of EHR Optimization bring insights that can only be gained through experience.

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