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July 31, 2013 Readers Write No Comments

Seven Strategies for Optimizing the EHR
By Marcy Stoots MS, RN-BC

7-31-2013 4-11-56 PM

Healthcare organizations are making a mistake if they subscribe to the notion that once an EHR is successfully implemented, it no longer requires attention. Even the most carefully designed EHR will not work as intended in all situations, causing users to create workarounds that are counterproductive and inefficient. It’s important to develop and implement an ongoing strategy for fine-tuning the EHR so that users can input and access the data they need with fewer clicks and better outcomes, which will improve clinician satisfaction.

Besides moving toward usability and adoption, optimization will help with plans to achieve Meaningful Use Stage 2, which raises the bar significantly. Under the Stage 2 final rule, for example, hospitals must report on 16 of 29 clinical quality measures (CQMs) and Eligible Professionals must report on nine of 64 CQMs. Optimizing the EHR to properly capture this data and generate compliance reporting is crucial.

Finally, optimization is a key step to realizing the financial ROI of the EHR, in which a substantial investment has been made. In today’s landscape of cost containment and healthcare reform, an organization can ill afford to sacrifice financial ROI or be bogged down by inefficiencies.

Below are seven strategies for optimizing the EHR to increase efficiency, improve the ROI, drive adoption, and improve usability, with the ultimate goal of providing better outcomes.

1. Create a Governance Structure

Just as an organization needed a governance structure during planning and implementation of the EHR, it will need one for ongoing optimization. This will provide an avenue for making decisions and keeping the optimization plan moving forward. Problems will continue to arise and solid governance will ensure that they are dealt with effectively. A process should be in place to manage variances when clinicians do not want to adhere to a standardized documentation or workflows. When these crop up, the governance group will need to decide upon appropriate action.

2. Create a Solid Informatics Structure

Many healthcare organizations struggle with the size and organization of the informatics team. From an optimization standpoint, it’s important to get this right. There is no standard answer here; every organization is different. Detailed descriptions of job roles and responsibilities should be created and appropriate resources budgeted.

3. Assign Responsibility

An individual at the leadership level should be designated as the responsible party for optimization. This function should be incorporated into that person’s job description. This is typically an informatics director, but could also be a CMIO or IT director, depending on the organizational structure. Assigning this responsibility will help ensure that optimization is an ongoing process, since it requires continual evaluation and modification. Ideally, for larger health systems, there should also be an optimization team in place that could include clinical leadership, operational leadership, informatics analysts, and super users. For smaller health systems, the team would be much smaller, but informaticists should have optimization as a core job function.

4. Measure

The pain points of clinicians should be determined by interviewing stakeholders, examining service desk tickets, listening to input from IT and informatics staff, analyzing reports and metrics, and observing end-to-end workflows. The most important issues should be focused on with data collected at baseline and after 30, 60 and 90 days. Measuring is an ongoing process. It should be used to monitor progress and gauge success.

5. Create Scorecards

Scorecards are a powerful tool for demonstrating what has been achieved. They display the collected data and communicate improvements to the team and stakeholders. Managing workarounds starts with accountability; Scorecards lets users know where they stand and create a healthily competitive environment that encourages success. They can be used to compare units within a hospital or hospitals within a health system.

6. Provide a Quick Win

Clinicians can be easily frustrated by glitches in the EHR, so areas should be pinpointed that will quickly increase their satisfaction. These are issues that are important to them, yet easy to address, the low-hanging fruit that delivers the highest impact. Success breeds enthusiasm, setting the stage for better adoption.

7. Continue Refining

Optimization is never complete. It is an ongoing endeavor without an endpoint.

Workarounds are a reality. The organization should have an optimization plan to monitor and manage them, as well as establishing ownership of that plan. With proper planning and a roadmap in place, addressing problems and overcoming challenges will go smoothly. The end result will be satisfied users and healthier patients (and lower costs).

Marcy Stoots MS, RN-BC is a principal with CIC Advisory of Clearwater, FL.

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