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Three questions behavioral health practices must ask

EHR systems have become a modern staple for behavioral health organizations. Both large and small practices have come to see value in the automation and convenience an EHR provides, but circumstances change over time and new needs develop.

At a certain point the effort to maintain an outdated or poorly designed system exceeds the challenge of adopting a new one. Though it is ultimately up to practices themselves to decide when the best time to upgrade is, those interested in identifying whether or not they have outgrown their EHRs need first ask themselves the following three questions:

What is happening in your practice?

Has the practice experienced significant growth since its inception? How have patient engagement and the bottom line been affected? EHRs can become a bottleneck rather than an enabler in a situation where dramatic growth in provider headcount or caseload has occurred.

Operational needs and regulatory requirements change over time, demanding additional tasks throughout clinical and administrative workflows and producing functional gaps in the EHR system. Any existing gaps must be bridged by human effort. As your practice continues to outgrow its EHR, you must devote more and more human effort to address the areas where the aging system falls short. Over time, this accounts for time and resources that could be used in other ways.

What is happening with the technology?

The software itself plays a vital role in the successful operation of your practice. Does it fall short of the functional and user experience needs of providers, patients, and staff? In other words, is it a good fit for your practice? If not, it is a sure sign that your practice has outgrown its EHR, and it is worth considering how much loss of efficiency the business is willing to put up with.

What is happening in the industry?

The behavioral healthcare industry continually changes. In just the past few years major changes in health care, such as increased telehealth demand, patient expectations, ICD-10 updates, various state EHR mandates, and CPT updates have rolled out, changing the dynamics of care.

A good indication of whether or not your practice has outgrown its EHR is how well you can adapt to changes. In the instance of telehealth demand, some EHR vendors simply bolted on 3rd party telehealth technology, creating additional work for providers and patients in a separate system. Others built native, integrated telehealth solutions. When it comes to changes in ICD coding, some systems make transitions easy, but with others, the burden falls on staff to find the right codes. Industry changes don’t have to mean extra work for providers, clinicians, and administrators, but more often than not they do when the EHR is underperforming.

Taking on a new EHR system is no small feat, so it is worth considering how growth has impacted your practice, how your current technology performs, and how readily it can respond to industry changes. Practices that have a better understanding of where they stand in relation to these things will have an easier time determining if it’s time to upgrade.