Electronic health records boast dozens of advantages over their paper counterparts. But converting from paper to electronic is a huge undertaking. When you’re struggling to keep up with day-to-day duties, the prospect of taking on a months-long system overhaul can be overwhelming.

But it can be done.

And it’s our belief that the process is easier when you know what to expect. Here’s a look at how Grand Lifestyles, a multi-location senior living community in Illinois, handled EHR implementation so you can learn from their experience and prepare for your own conversion journey.

Staying Compliant & Saving Time

Kara Stolp, the Regional Director of Nursing for Grand Lifestyles, oversaw the conversion to EHR. One main reason the Grand Lifestyles team decided to take the plunge was that they found they were losing a lot of time on assessments.

According to Stolp, she and her team spent time “ensuring state-required assessments were completed in a timely manner, checking for holes and blanks and assessments, [and] going from one community to the next to check” that information was accurate. Having multiple buildings proved a special challenge for Stolp and her team, as they had to ensure consistency among communities, which sometimes meant duplicating work.

In addition to completing assessments accurately, they also had to track due dates, a task that was in itself time consuming.

When Stolp and her team started their search, they determined that they needed an EHR system that…

  • Had built-in knowledge of current supportive living regulations in Illinois, plus the changes on the horizon. This was important because so many of the assessments Grand Lifestyles handles are mandated by the state.
  • Was user-friendly so the staff would be able to learn it and wouldn’t feel overwhelmed when asked to adopt it.
  • Had the capacity to help them improve the consistency of their care and assessment management.
  • Was backed by a team that was accessible, attentive, and friendly.

EHR Implementation: Tips and Hiccups

Stolp is straightforward when she talks about the EHR conversion process: it’s lengthy and cumbersome. For the system to work, you have to get all your data into it. That takes time.

Specifically, Stolp highlights a few challenges to be on the lookout for when converting paper records to electronic:

  • Balancing day-to-day responsibilities with data conversion is a challenge. Setting small weekly goals can help ensure the long-term conversion project doesn’t get pushed off indefinitely. It may also make sense to have weekly “assignments” due so you can catch any problems early on.
  • If you manage multiple communities, have a point person at each to manage the transition. That will help prevent a bottleneck when questions come up about how to handle something.
  • Plan enough training sessions, and plan to be a part of them. If your team isn’t super tech-savvy, you may  need to signal to the vendor’s representative when to slow down and offer more explanations.
  • Make sure your staff understands how important they are to the process: frontline staff are often the ones collecting the data that’s used to make high-level financial decisions. Help them understand the larger context and offer the support they need to feel like their contributions are valued.

Maximizing ROI When Converting to Electronic Health Records

EHR implementation may make your life easier, but leadership isn’t likely to agree to it unless you can make a case for a solid ROI. The good news is that the benefits of going digital are pretty hard to argue with. Here are some strategies you can plan to share with leadership to show you’re ready to make the most of your community’s EHR conversion and boost financial outcomes from day one.

  1. Don’t shortchange the planning process. Grand Lifestyles needed a tech solution that would work for the long haul. It was also important to Stolp and her team to find a partner with values that matched their community’s. And she knew her team would need highly available tech support, so she made that expectation clear upfront when she was considering vendors.
  2. Create an internal team of super-users. Whether you manage one community or several, it’s important to identify a person or group of people tasked with really getting to know the system. Because they’re more engaged, they’ll think of new ways to use the EHR system to improve life in your community, which means everybody wins. Good fits for this role tend to be fairly tech-savvy and have a good handle on your community and its needs.
  3. Prioritize ongoing communication. Frontline staff will be less enthusiastic about adopting new technology if it feels like something thrust on them with no warning. Encourage executive leadership to be transparent about the process: announce the search for an EHR system, announce when you’ve chosen the system, and keep everyone informed about the timeline for conversion. Using this opportunity to illustrate how the EHR will make everyone’s lives easier can help get staff excited for the implementation process.
  4. Analyze and adjust current processes. Converting to EHR is an opportunity to update outdated processes and eliminate inefficiencies. Chances are, if you’re following the same processes you’ve been following for years, you can eliminate some things and add others to improve outcomes.
  5. Practice going live. A mock go-live can serve a lot of purposes: help you anticipate problems you hadn’t thought of, get your team excited for the actual launch, and identify any team members who need additional training. Holding a mock launch can make the real thing go much more smoothly, which makes life easier for everyone.
  6. Conduct a post-launch review. In addition to identifying what’s going well and what needs work, take time to celebrate with the team. This is the last step in the EHR implementation journey, which can be long. Taking a moment to catch your breath and look back on what you’ve achieved can help your team feel valued and accomplished.

The Results: Life with an EHR

One of Stolp’s biggest takeaways? She can’t believe how much time the conversion to an EHR has saved:

  • State-mandated Individual Support Plans (ISPs)
    • Before EHR: 30 to 45 minutes
    • After EHR: 20 minutes
  • Quarterly assessments
    • Before EHR: 15 to 20 minutes
    • After EHR: 10 minutes

Multiplied across their five communities, that’s a significant savings.

Further, Stolp notes that transitioning to EHR has led to improved consistency of documentation and therefore consistency of care. That has huge implications for preventing incidents and identifying care-level changes efficiently.

Finally, the EHR implementation enabled Grand Lifestyles to get a clearer high-level view on what’s going on in communities, thanks to highly visible documentation. Having records stored digitally means it’s infinitely easier to analyze data, spot trends, and even offer statistics about their communities to prospective residents, which can be a powerful as families compare senior living options.

But what’s perhaps most exciting for Stolp and her colleagues is that, now that the conversion process is complete, they can start expanding what they do within the EHR. In 2018, they’re hoping to improve prescription tracking and get even better at state-level assessments.

Ultimately, Stolp and the Grand Lifestyles team found that, in addition to saving time and money, converting to an EHR boosted engagement for everyone on the team and enabled better leadership from supervisors.

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