EHR integration is a complex yet highly beneficial process to healthcare facilities. It streamlines workflows, increases patient data security and reduces expenses. But how can one integrate EHR technologies seamlessly into an operating facility? And what are the most critical benefits of EHR implementation? Let’s discuss the essential practices and challenges of EHR migration.
What Is an EHR platform?
EHR (an electronic health record) is an electronic version of patients’ health-related data and history. EHRs contain sensitive patient information like the following:
- medical history
- treatment plans
- history of appointments and procedures
- medication prescriptions
- lab results
- follow-up dates
- insurance data
An EHR platform or system, in turn, stores the EHRs of all patients within a healthcare facility and allows accessing and sharing of the records between different specialists and departments within the facility, or with other organizations, based on user roles. In other words, the EHR system is software that, through automation, provides a convenient and secure way to use and store patients’ sensitive medical data.
An EHR system provides numerous opportunities for automation to streamline organizational processes and allows for artificial intelligence and machine learning integration. The latter, in turn, enables comprehensive analytics and the building of a clinical decision support system.
EHR Technologies in the Healthcare Market
Boosted by the global Covid-19 pandemic and powered by the benefits they provide, EHR technologies are growing at a rapid pace. In particular, the market of software integrations in the healthcare industry, which include EHR technologies, is expected to expand from $4.1B in 2021 to $10.52B in 2029.
Interestingly, the integration of medical data is the most used technology among those transforming our approach to providing care and managing healthcare facilities, like business intelligence and speech recognition. As for the most common data integration users, the top-end ones are the following:
- Diagnostic imaging centers
Overall, EHR and related technologies are on the rise in the healthcare field and have already upgraded the operations of numerous medical facilities worldwide. But the fact that it is a recently emerged technology raises several EHR interoperability challenges and other issues associated with integrating and using EHR platforms, which are yet to be resolved.
Benefits of EHR Integration
EHR implementation brings the performance of a clinic to a new level, all thanks to automation. Besides more efficient workflows and less manual work, EHR intelligence provides better patient care and reduces expenses. So here is a deeper dive into the benefits of EHR integration.
EHR software automates any healthcare facility’s operations, cutting costs in multiple business areas. Many unnecessary expenses are running in clinics that do not use EHR:
- hospitals spend $210B annually on unnecessary claim processing and other paperwork
- patients admitted to hospitals without EHR integrated spend $731 more than those using EHR
- medical errors make up $20B per year
But implementing EHR eliminates a great deal of paperwork, makes surveillance simpler and more accessible within just a few clicks, and prevents many medical errors due to a more convenient approach to data management.
Altogether, these changes brought by EHR intelligence contribute to a reduction in extra expenses and allow the allocation of resources to other areas that help improve patient care.
As EHR technologies imply digitalization and automation, the system allows for streamlining hospital workflows across all departments. That includes automating paperwork because all records are electronic, which reduces the time for data entry, access and exchange.
In particular, medical staff saves between 60% and 99.9% of the time on surveillance when using EHR migration. And rounding time is lower by 1.5 min per patient.
With this in mind, EHRs improve the established workflows, which is highly beneficial to the clinic’s performance. The overall staff’s productivity increases and they can focus on taking care of patients directly while leaving administrative tasks to the software.
Lower Chance of Errors
Medical errors are among the top reasons for patient death in the US. And because medical errors cost hospitals billions of dollars annually, EHR intelligence helps not only provide better service and patient care but also cut expenses on correcting medical errors, i.e., by avoiding unnecessary procedures.
EHR systems are developed with the clinic’s processes and workflows in mind, along with the business side of it. Thus, the system automates the majority of manual tasks for both physicians and other staff.
Automating workflows with EHRs leads to fewer errors in billing, patient record keeping, and other tasks running at a healthcare facility. So there are significantly fewer cases of record mismatch, duplicates and other errors associated with medical paperwork. Diagnosis and treatment prescriptions are also more accurate with EHR integrated.
Convenient Data Sharing
EHRs are effective in making medical data more accessible — physicians, lab employees and administrative medical staff can find the needed patient record within just a few clicks.
Because all data is stored in a single system, this is beneficial if different doctors supervise the same patient. All clinicians can also get results of medical procedures and lab tests fast. Another case when EHRs simplify data exchange is when patients receive treatment in different clinics. Finally, EHRs facilitate remote patient monitoring since clinicians can access patient records regardless of location.
Increased Data Security
Any EHR system must be compliant with regulations regarding patient information. Regulations like HIPAA, GDPR and others define the roles and permissions on sensitive patient data access, changing, sharing and storage. Because these guidelines are included in the core of the system during its development, patient data is always safe and secure.
Another factor contributing to the high security of patient data within an EHR platform is that it is cloud-based. Storing sensitive patient data in the cloud adds safety by reducing the risks of data loss or a breach in case of any local hardware malfunctions. Of course, there are measures to take to ensure cloud-based data security, but your EHR vendor will handle that on their end.
More Patient Engagement and Satisfaction
EHR platforms make care delivery more convenient for physicians and engage customers. Since they enable remote access to medical data, patients no longer have to wait until the next appointment to know their lab results — they can get their information online.
Also, EHR systems keep the history of appointments and procedures. They can remind patients of the upcoming ones, which adds to the convenience of no back-and-forth communication with clinics. That provides more transparency to patients and gives them a sense of involvement and control over their treatment. At the same time, EHR frees physicians from manual paperwork, leaving more time for care delivery through direct communication with patients.
Altogether, EHR implementation increases care quality and patients’ feeling of clarity as they receive healthcare services. In the long run, elevated care delivery contributes to higher patient satisfaction rates.
7 Practices for Successful EHR Migration
EHR implementation is a complex process due to its technical nature and the involvement of many people at once. The entire organization, from physicians to the clinic’s administrative staff, everyone has to face the change and contribute to its adaptation.
Here are the essential practices to follow to ensure seamless EHR migration.
1. Identify Key Parameters and Goals
The first and primary factor to consider when planning EHR implementation is what data needs to be migrated to EHR. The scope of your migration project will depend on the size of your organization and the desired system. Therefore, you need to build your data strategy: how much of your data will migrate to the EHR system, whether it will include scans and images, etc., and what functionality it will support.
This step also includes identifying roles you need your system to provide. User roles define who can access patient data and to what extent, including who can share, edit and delete medical records. That is a crucial part of the EHR migration strategy for security reasons.
Overall, identifying parameters like these and setting goals for your future EHR system gives you a bigger image of how much your project will cost and how much time it will take.
2. Communicate Your Needs to EHR Vendor
After you know how your future EHR platform will look, it is time to communicate it to your EHR vendor. Whether it is an in-house team who will be working on your EHR implementation or you will outsource the specialists, discuss your project vision and needs to make sure they are taken into account.
At the same time, request a deeper explanation of more complex sides of the process, like data privacy or regulatory compliance. A vast data security concern is ensuring the system complies with HIPAA (or GDPR) and other regulations since patient data is sensitive information. Lastly, through the entire integration process, it is crucial to remain on the same page with your EHR vendor. That allows for avoiding any misunderstandings and delays they can cause further in the process.
3. Select the Data to Be Migrated
Having identified the parameters and goals for your EHR migration, you must decide what data to extract and migrate to the electronic system. If your organization is relatively small and only has several years of data, you can convert all the records to electronic — it would be a bearable scope of integration.
But if you have decades of medical data, you should:
- Divide it into sections and prioritize what data to migrate first
- Select the most recent data and digitize these records only, leaving older ones on paper
An essential thing in the data selection process is to include all stakeholders in the discussion regarding what data should and should not be migrated to the EHR system.
4. Scale Your Network
EHR implementation will likely require updating your network, including software and hardware. It may be challenged based on whether the system will be hosted onsite or in the cloud.
In particular, a cloud-based solution can require setting up access rules on staff’s computers to launch and use the platform. At the same time, integrating third-party apps into cloud-based solutions requires meeting specific criteria. Lastly, hardware may need to be updated to handle the technical demand and capacity for proper platform performance.
Assessing whether you have the needed technical capacity for your migration is essential to make the change seamless and free of delays. But it also affects your migration budget — taking care of the equipment upgrade ahead of EHR implementation allows you to plan your costs accordingly, with fewer unexpected expenses further in the process.
5. Choose the Right Time for Migration
Migrating patient data to EHR poses an additional demand on the clinic’s network, making it challenging to combine the migration with a load of regular tasks and daily workflows. And the demand will increase if it is a busy day for the facility. Therefore, it is crucial to assess when is the least busy time for the clinic to make sure the data migration and the facility’s performance are good. So before starting to implement the new EHR solution, take the time to gather some analytics on peak times to plan your project accordingly.
Network failure may also occur during migration and can lead to data losses and duplicates, compromising the safety of patient data and the clinic’s reputation. The same issue threatens the clinic’s daily operations, especially if the current system is built onsite. Thus, planning the right time for system migration in advance is better to reduce the risks.
6. Test Data for Accuracy
Data accuracy is vital for an effective EHR system. After data for migration is selected, it has to be audited and tested for quality. This step allows for removing duplicates, empty and incomplete records and any other unnecessary data that will take up server space and be of no use to platform users.
7. Set Up Staff Training
As you implement EHR intelligence, notify your staff about the upcoming change and prepare training. Sheets with tips on its most often used features can also be helpful for staff’s daily use. Proper staff training will reduce migration anxiety, data entry errors, and time spent working with the platform. Also, it will provide a clear understanding of user roles.
EHR Integration Challenges
Since EHR intelligence is still relatively new, some obstacles prevent us from using it most. While some are easier to manage and resolve, others are tougher. Here are the challenges in mind when planning EHR implementation to minimize their effect on migration outcomes.
Interoperability implies the ability of the EHR system to communicate with other software and understand each other. From third-party application integration to various medical devices, interoperability implies data exchange across all used software. That enables seamless and efficient patient data exchange within the facility and between different clinics.
Today, EHR interoperability challenges are an issue — the lack of operability between EHR systems and other integrated software clinics prevents us from taking advantage of the full potential of EHR technologies. That also poses a risk of missing some patient data or obtaining incorrect data, therefore not getting the full image of a patient’s health.
Data migration implies moving the data from one location to another. In the case of building an EHR system, big data migration may also involve changing the format of the records from paper-based to digital or between various digital formats if there is a legacy system. Besides, the datasets transferred between healthcare facilities are usually significant. They can compose different fields and tabs, making it a demanding process with much room for error and software miscommunication.
To make data migration to EHR less of a challenge, it is crucial to prepare the staff for the change and be patient. For example, digitizing tons of paperwork and paper-based records can be a long, tiresome process, but it needs to be done. Therefore, the best way to move through with the migration is to divide it into milestones and plan the timeline accordingly.
Maintaining data privacy is another challenge when it comes to integrating EHR. Security of patient data is not only critical for patients’ trust in the clinic but is also a legal obligation. Thus, keeping data private and secure in an EHR platform is the top priority. But no system is ever 100% protected from data breaches and cyber-attacks.
The issue is that EHR implies using data and exchanging it, which creates more opportunities for data privacy to be compromised. And the issue remains a serious challenge because the lack of data privacy threatens the clinic’s reputation and may even lead to legal claims and financial losses.
Staff training is essential to EHR implementation, but it requires time and dedication from the clinic’s staff and management. But proper and timely training allows for making the most use of the EHR system with few to no issues caused by unfamiliar functionality or the challenge of adapting to the change.
Fortunately, despite the challenge, staff training may be fine. It can be well-planned and useful by realizing the importance of training and including it in the migration timeline. And as the EHR system is in development, there is time to create manuals, video tutorials and handouts with tips. That will ensure the staff has the resources to learn how to use the platform right after deployment.
EHR Platform Support and Maintenance
The technical demand for EHR does not end after the system’s complete integration. Instead, continuous monitoring, support and maintenance are a must to ensure that the platform performs as desired from then on.
In particular, the system needs to be regularly updated and troubleshot. It is also crucial to ensure it remains compliant with regulations throughout the updates. And in the case of scaling, EHR platform optimization is essential to increase its technical capability to handle the growing business needs of the facility.
Of course, the most effective and cost-efficient way to support and maintain a newly integrated EHR system is by hiring an experienced team. Regardless of whether it is an in-office or outsourced one, having a dedicated team will allow for fast troubleshooting and constant monitoring of the EHR platform, hence keeping up with its excellent performance.
EHR technologies bring a lot of advantages to the healthcare industry, particularly to hospitals and labs. But there are still specific challenges to EHR implementation that require the involvement of experienced engineers specializing in medical data integration. And we are here to help — contact us to discuss your future EHR platform plan.