I had a rare opportunity this month to do something I haven’t done in a very long time: support a go-live. A friend who owns another consulting company reached out to me to see if I could help her out with the launch of a new EHR client when one of her consultants had to back out due to a family emergency. I had a bit of a lull in my schedule, so I was happy to oblige, especially since it happened to be one of my favorite cities. The idea of grits made by people who actually know what they are doing was enough to seal the deal.
I’ve supported the EHR in question before, but not for a couple of versions. She sent over her training documentation as well as the training records for the users at the location where I’d be covering. The end users had been through quite a bit of training along with role play and simulated patients with real-time coaching for eye contact. They also were planning a soft go-live the week prior, where end users (including providers) would be entering their visits after they left the exam room.
The plan was that by the time the actual go-live occurred on Monday, everyone would have documented at least 30 patient visits and would be ready to go. Each user had to not only attest to the fact that they did the visits, but my friend had consultants going through the charts to ensure that it was done correctly and to remediate anyone who appeared to be struggling.
I arrived Monday morning to a very calm office where everyone seemed comfortable with what was about to happen. Patient visit schedules had been adjusted, giving a 15-minute break after every three patients to allow the staff to catch up. Charts had been abstracted for upcoming visits based on a rolling schedule, and for same-day and next-day appointments, they were being loaded in real time.
Of course, the providers had spent some time cleaning up the charts for patients seen in the last six months so that abstraction could be simple data entry rather than a complex game of “hunt the data.” The practice also spent the last year adjusting their scheduling processes and panel sizes to ensure they were not trying to operate way above capacity. Some physician panels were closed and others shifted to move patient volume to where there was capacity.
The practice had been live on the practice management side of the application for a few months and also had been scanning all inbound and internally created paper (including visit notes) as well as receiving lab results via interface since the first of the year. There was very little reason to need a paper chart at the time of go live, although the practice planned to pull the chart for three patient encounters (whether in person or by phone) before archiving.
After the first couple of patient visits, I began to wonder why I was there. Although some might think the pre-live activities were grossly over-engineered, they did exactly what they were designed to do, which was to make the go-live successful.
At the end of the day, the providers were asked how they felt about their schedule and the amount of blocked time and they felt they could open some additional patient visit slots for Tuesday. Tuesday also went off without a hitch, with nearly all providers opting to continue to reduce the number of blocks on their schedule for documentation time. By Thursday afternoon, everyone was running a full schedule and seeing patients reasonably on time.
Overall, providers lost very little volume during go-live week because they were extremely well prepared. The workflow I saw in the exam rooms was good, with providers being able to interact with both the computer and the patient through reconfigured exam rooms or other adaptations. It was about as textbook of a go-live as you could ask for.
I was able to spend some time debriefing with my friend on Thursday night before heading home on Friday. My big question was how much time was spent up front to ensure the smooth go-live, especially considering the amount of training, role play, patient simulations, chart clean-up, etc. She had been tracking it pretty thoroughly and the average time commitment per provider was around 60-70 hours. That included 14 hours of system training, time needed for soft-live chart notes, time spent resolving data issues during chart clean up, additional role playing/coaching, and other activities. The only thing she didn’t have an accounting for was time spent in regular staff meetings where the EHR project was discussed.
Depending on how you think about it, 60-70 hours may or may not seem like a lot of time. When you talk about losing nearly two weeks of potential patient-facing hours, it seems like a lot. But when you hear about practices that “never got back to full productivity” despite years on an EHR, it seems like a small investment.
I think the more unquantifiable factor here was the smoothness of the go-live. There were very few chaotic times and no moments of terror at my site, and by report, none at other locations, either. Things were extremely smooth and you can’t put a price on the value of that when you’re talking about the mental health of your providers and frontline staff.
My consulting buddy, who prides herself on her “white glove” service, has follow-up assessments scheduled weekly by phone for the first month and then onsite at the 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day marks. If the practice starts to struggle, she’s going to know about it.
I look at some of the EHR vendors out there offering go-live within a week or two and I wonder how well that really goes in practice. I imagine that if the practice was fully optimized and the paper charts were all in good shape, it might be possible. But for practices that are going live on EHR this late in the game, I would think that’s less common since many net new purchases are from practices that are only being dragged into technology adoption through penalties.
I’d be interested to hear from readers in the implementation space. What do your experiences look like at this stage of the game? Can you really get practices live in a couple of weeks and have the adoption stick? What happens when you leave?
Have a good go-live story? Email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.