Without This EMR Step, You Might Never Get It Right

It’s not hard to find physicians and nurses who say that far from improving health care, the EMRs they use are something to work around.

Billing problems, lost productivity and even diminished quality of care are common complaints, sometimes long after the implementation kinks should have been worked out. In some cases, doctors who bought into EMRs as a way to operate more effectively and efficiently have found themselves disappointed enough to look for hospital employment, try new practice models or even close their doors, as HealthcareScene.com founder John Lynn has written.

Often the problem lies deeper than the technology, according to a recent white paper from TechSolve, a Cincinnati-based consulting group. After all, an electronic overlay does little good when it serves only to automate bad processes.

TechSolve is promoting a process-mapping approach to EMR for hospitals through its Lean Healthcare Solutions unit. It’s part of a trend toward applying the efficiency techniques of Japanese manufacturers to EMRs and other aspects of health care.

Like Toyota and other pioneers of lean, health care providers should rely on line workers to help root out waste, according to TechSolve.

“While you may be inclined to dismiss negative comments as resistance to change, staff may be aware of design issues that the design team, PI facilitator, and vendor were not,” TechSolve consultants Sue Kozlowski and Alex Jones wrote.

They offered seven steps to ensure maximum benefit from an EMR, a few of which I’ll share. I suggest downloading the full paper for a complete view.

TechSolve recommends thinking about process improvement before getting started with an EMR. Of course, if it’s too late for that, the firm and others in the space are happy to step in later, as well.

Here’s what TechSolve advises:

  • Map your current processes. This can be done with help from your process improvement team or an outside group. In some cases, it’s best to assign a team to each service line.
  • Compare current and future states. Color-coding is one way to do this, highlighting visually for staff members how their work will change.
  • Prioritize issues that affect patient care and payment timing. An “issues list” can be created and then reviewed after “go live” to make sure problems have been corrected. Also, examine how well staff members are adhering to the new processes, asking questions such as, “Where are they using work-arounds, and where have they found new capabilities in the system?”
  • Process map again. This new snapshot is the baseline going forward. It can serve as a reference for staff members when they’re in doubt and as a training tool for new hires.

We’re all looking for technology that makes our lives easier right away. But when it comes to EMRs, there’s no true turnkey solution. Making a system pay off requires investments, particularly of time, well beyond the sticker price.

Under traditional reimbursement models, though, planning is not what brings in the revenue. It’s easy enough to see why hospital employment, with guarantees of a salary and IT assistance, is becoming a more and more attractive option for physicians who want to limit expenses and risk.

Hospitals, though, have no plan B. They’ll have to marry their IT to efficient processes or else.