Planning, Early Support Keys to EMR Success, Execs Say

Health IT veterans say result is worth the struggle

May 18, 2007 http://www.computerworld.com — When a major IT project is implemented at The Ohio State University Medical Center, the IT shop sends out several “Red Coats” — designated helpers for users who are struggling with the new system.

The medical center’s IT services team members, who wear coats in the university’s scarlet color to make them easily identifiable, are credited with playing a key role in the successful rollout several years ago of an electronic medical records (EMR) system.

At last week’s Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s Virtual Conference & Expo, IT executives who have overseen successful EMR and other health IT projects offered tips for health care firms looking to implement such systems.

“[The EMR] is a whole new application” for health care firms, said Detlev “Herb” Smaltz, CIO at the Columbus-based medical center. “They have been doing things with paper charts forever.”

Smaltz stressed the need for support teams like the medical center’s Red Coats to ease the transition. “You can do as much training as you want upfront, but invariably there will be a number of folks who will need some help,” he said. Smaltz suggested that user response to a major new applications in the three weeks after going live can “make or break” a project.

He also noted that the OSU medical center leaned heavily on its project level steering teams during the implementation phase to quickly address questions about required changes to business processes. “That is the thing that holds up projects – all the decisions about business process changes you have to make,” he added.

Smaltz said that 90% of physicians working at the center’s six hospitals use the EMR system and that it is now being rolled out to the offices of affiliated physicians.

Longtime EMR user Salvatore Volpe, a physician who practices in Staten Island, N.Y., added that detailed, upfront planning is critical to avoid the “headaches and heartaches” EMR projects can cause small and large operations alike.

For example, Volpe said, without early planning, physician practices would likely have to pay for EMR software and services long before they are ready to use them. Vendors typically begin charging users for software and services once a contract is signed — whether the customer knows how to use the product or not, he noted.

Volpe also advised potential EMR users to conduct hands-on tests of multiple EMR software offerings before selecting one. “The only way to know if these products fit into your particular workflow is by actually using them,” Volpe said.

Denni McColm, CIO of Citizens Memorial Health Care Foundation Inc. in Bolivar, Mo., credited the hospital’s success with EMRs to the support of the company’s administrators and to working closely with physicians and staff members before, during and after the move to paperless patient records.

Complete article here: www.computerworld.com

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