There are many challenges that keep physicians awake at night, and one of the most current is tackling the emerging world of electronic health records (EHRs). Financial incentives coupled with the rapid acceptance of communication technology have made this conversion essential. For healthcare providers, a key question persists: can EHR adoption be done in a way that achieves fiscal sense and administrative ease? Despite the inherent complexities that are involved with this undertaking, the answer, fortunately, is yes, but it takes proper planning, focused execution, and patience.

Getting Started

To start, physicians need to find an EHR system at a price point that is acceptable. Until now, that hasn’t been easy as few “single-shingle” doctors were enthusiastic to pay the costs associated with these systems. However, considerable progress has been made, and there are now products on the market that are quite affordable both in initial cost and ongoing commitment.

When choosing a system, it’s essential to remember that not all physicians who convert to EHRs will receive the stimulus dollars set forth in the 2009 economic stimulus package. Only those providers who use EHR technology that has been certified to allow providers to achieve “meaningful use” will be eligible for these financial rewards. The term “meaningful use” is categorized as technology that improves care coordination, reduces healthcare disparities, engages patients and their families, improves population and public health, and ensures adequate privacy and security. In other words, providers must choose wisely when selecting their EHR systems.

Gaining Support

Having the correct EHR system in place is a good place to start, but providers also need to obtain the ancillary tools that are right for their practice or healthcare setting. This may include tablet PCs, voice recognition, and handwriting recognition, among other tools. If, for example, you’re accustomed to handwriting in your charts, then it’s important to purchase a tablet PC that allows notes to be handwritten into the system. This will reduce the chance of failure and make the transition much easier.

“The more providers can do electronically and the more integrated a practice is, the higher the likelihood of success.”

Similarly, it’s important to think “integration.” Don’t make the mistake of processing labs, prescriptions, and referrals on paper while the charts are being handled electronically because it adds to inefficiencies. Your staff has to scan the initial order and then scan again when results come back in order to add this information to the charts. It’s also important that you’re not “married” to your existing practice management system. Use an integrated model that allows everyone to see all the information needed to track every aspect of office flow, including calendaring, benefit information, and accounting. The more providers can do electronically and the more integrated a practice is, the higher the likelihood of success.

Practice Patience

Once the new system is in place, doctors need to be patient. Historically, the initial conversion to electronic records has led to transient drops in physician productivity as they learn how to enter charts into the system. Therefore, it behooves physicians to start by only adding new patients into the electronic system. As productivity and comfort improves, then add perhaps every fifth patient and then every third until all of your patients can be moved into the EHR confidently. Ultimately, EHRs have the potential to improve quality, safety, efficiency, and access. By choosing wisely and avoiding a few common mistakes, providers can enter the technology world with confidence, commitment, and clarity.