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What? Not another upgrade!

How to ensure a smooth transition when you upgrade your EMR software or install a new system

Just when everyone is trained and comfortable with your EMR system, along comes an upgrade. Keeping up with the demands of meaningful use and changing regulations has software vendors sending out upgrades with alarming frequency. This means that you may be spending far more time and money training staff on new or improved systems than you like.

“All these upgrades can be a real problem for practices,” says Robert Tennant, senior policy advisor at Medical Group Management Association. “Everyone is already so busy there doesn’t seem to be time for more training. However you don’t want to skimp on this. There is a direct correlation between the amount of training and the success of the upgrade.”

And success of the upgrade, of course, means success for your practice.

“Changes and upgrades involve more work in the beginning, but the advantages—for example being able to send orders directly to the lab electronically or not spending time searching through paper files—will make life easier in the long run,” adds Christine Lee, manager of provider practice services with Care Communications, a health information management consulting firm.

Just because it’s necessary, doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. “Because you can’t realistically cut back on seeing patients, you may have to bite the bullet and work evenings or weekends to get the training done, knowing that the extra expense will be made up for in increased productivity when the new system is up and running,” says Tennant.

This may be a hard sell to your staff, but there are ways around that, too. Before you start scheduling training sessions and asking people to take on more work, you need to step back and take a look at the big picture, says Lee. “Any time you are implementing something new or making changes, you should see this as an opportunity for change management. Change is inevitable in medicine, so you need to have a plan for dealing with it.”

Lee suggests that you identify leaders in your practice and get buy-in from them, then that support will trickle down to the rest of the team. “The people who are most resistant to a new idea tend to be the biggest supporters once they get used to it,” she says.

Here are a few tips from Lee for getting this crucial buy-in:

* Find one or two things about the new system that will make life easier for these people. Don’t focus on big abstract improvements, but hit closer to home. “This new program will save time ordering labs so you’ll spend less time on the phone” is better than “this will improve communications with labs.”

* Have short, but frequent meetings updating staff on what’s going on. Don’t wait for a big reveal. Let people get used to the idea gradually.

* Be sure your staff hears any news from you. Inaccuracies spread when people get their information from the grapevine.

* Be flexible with scheduling. If possible, juggle things so people don’t feel so rushed and pressured.


Once you have a plan for managing change, it’s time to think about the nitty-gritty details of training. Some vendors provide training and support for upgrades, but some don’t. If your vendor doesn’t offer what you need, you may have to get outside help. “A large practice might need to hire a consultant,” says Tennant. “But there are other options. Depending on the nature of the upgrade, you might be able to find YouTube videos, online forums, and user groups that can help.”

Additional training will take time, but there are ways to save. Tennant offers a few suggestions:

* Have a standardized way to collect concerns and questions. Several people calling tech support or consultants with the same question is a time waster. Designate one person in the practice to collect questions, get the answers, then share with everyone else.

* Talk with colleagues at other practices who have already been through the transition. Hearing, for example, that “we budgeted 20 hours for training but could have used 30” could be valuable information for you.

* Visit online forums. You’ll get a much a more objective perspective from other users than from your vendor’s support staff or sales rep.

If you take time to plan for change, and use a few time-saving techniques, training for a new EMR system or upgrades shouldn’t be a recurring headache.

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