When thinking about creating an EHR transition plan, practice managers and owners often focus on how to create a smooth transition for staff and clinicians. While this is an important aspect of EHR migration, it’s equally important to think about how the transition will play out for your patients.
If your behavioral health practice is transitioning from one EHR to another, it’s important that the transition feel smooth to patients. If your practice becomes disorganized during the switch, or if things like scheduling and accessing the patient portal become difficult for clients, it will impact the quality of care you deliver, and could ultimately cost you clients.
Here are some key considerations for minimizing disruption for patients during an EHR switch.
Communication Is Key
Effective, timely communication with patients should play a central role in your EHR transition plan.
Don’t surprise patients with news of the switch right before it happens. Announce the upcoming transition well in advance. You can do this via email, text, or patient portal messages, as well as instructing staff and clinicians to speak with patients about it directly. You may want to send a series of messages in the weeks or months leading up to the switch, to make sure patients don’t overlook the first announcement.
Some of your clients may feel inconvenienced at having to learn to interact with a new system, and may question why your practice is making this decision. In your communications, be clear about how this EHR migration will impact the patient experience for the better. Examples might include:
- The new software will make scheduling easier.
- The new EHR will come with an easy-to-use patient portal.
- Clients will be able to make payments online and/or save credit cards on file.
- The EHR will speed staff workflow, giving them more time to interact with patients.
- Telehealth will become easier for patients to access on the new system.
Remember to focus on the patient experience. Clients may not care how transitioning from one EHR to another will affect the staff’s work experience, but they will care about how it affects their own interaction with your practice.
Provide Information and Resources
If your new EHR will affect “touchpoints” with patients—for example, the patient portal, scheduling, payments, etc.—then your clients will need resources to help orient them to the new process. Resources you might use include:
- Brochures in the office
- Online guides
- An instructional email with screenshots of the new processes
- Patient-facing training material from your new EHR vendor
Ensure Data Continuity
Maintaining data continuity during the switch can be challenging, but is a critically important piece of your EHR transition plan. The patient data that will reside on the new system must be accurate and complete.
First, review the contract with your existing EHR company to see what, if any, assistance they will give with data conversion. Data may need to be reformatted for the new system. Data conversion can be complex, and if your current EHR provider won’t shoulder any of the burden, you will need to make other arrangements for converting the information.
It’s important to plan for the expense of data conversion. It may be a lengthy process, during which you’ll be paying to maintain your old EHR system and your new EHR system at the same time. Make sure you’ve factored this into your budget.
One way to protect your budget is to set very clear deadlines for data conversion. This helps ensure that both EHR companies have completed their tasks within a certain timeframe, so that the window of time in which you’re paying both companies doesn’t stretch further than you expected.
Data integrity will need to be monitored during the migration process and checked afterwards. This will likely involve decisions about which types of data to double-check, and how far back to look. The American Health Information Management Association recommends a few policies and procedures related to data integrity that your practice can document and implement.
For a more in-depth look at the transition process, check out our EHR Migration Project Plan Template.
Address Patient Concerns and Feedback
Software transitions will almost always involve some growing pains as staff, providers, and patients adjust to the new system. To maintain patient satisfaction and confidence in your practice, you’ll want to collect patient feedback about the new system and the transition process.
There are many ways to collect patient feedback: via email or text messages after an appointment, through phone calls, using an app, or even documenting informal feedback that is delivered verbally to staff or providers.
Practice Builders suggests strategies for patient complaints that will allow you to respond and make patients feel heard:
- Be proactive in collecting feedback, rather than waiting for patients to approach you with problems.
- When you receive complaints or concerns, work to actively address them.
- Be a good listener when patients share their experiences.
- Speak with patience and calmness, especially when a client is upset.
- Don’t take criticism of the new system personally.
- Try to see things from your patient’s point of view.
- Apologize to your patients as a way to validate their feelings.
- Document all complaints to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Maintain Continuity of Care
You’ll need to ensure continuity of care throughout your EHR transition. After all, if you can’t offer your patients consistently excellent care, then your practice isn’t doing its number one job.
Some aspects of quality care are concrete matters of data. For example, your new system will need to have accurate data in terms of patients’ medical history, medication lists, allergies, etc. These concerns can be addressed through a good data migration strategy.
Other aspects of care are less tangible:
- Provider productivity
- Hours of availability when your practice can communicate with patients and schedule appointments
- A patient-first atmosphere across the practice
- Coordination between care providers
These things can all be affected by the disruptions of switching EHRs, so you’ll need to think about all aspects of patient care before making the transition. You may need to plan for office downtime and lowered provider productivity, which is one of the reasons why announcing the transition well in advance is important—it allows you to “build in” downtime and allows patients to schedule their necessary appointments around the disruption. You’ll also need to make sure that the lines of communication are kept open between providers at your practice, and between your providers and other healthcare professionals who may collaborate with you on patient care. This includes making sure that your referral sources know the best way for patients to reach you during software downtimes.
Your EHR Transition Plan
The most important strategies for easing patients through an EHR migration are communicating, providing informational resources, and maintaining excellent standards of data storage and patient care throughout. These things will help you provide patient-centered care and maintain your clients’ trust throughout the process.
When you keep your clients front-and-center, switching EHRs can be a win for everyone: providers, staff, and the clients you serve.