There are plenty of reasons to implement an EHR system in an assisted living or memory care community. Better visibility into care lets you improve the quality of your care and offers a 360-degree view of each patient and their health. This information lets frontline staff do their jobs better, offers greater transparency at the corporate level, and even helps identify missed revenue opportunities.

But the challenges of implementing electronic health records can seem overwhelming when you’re still on the fence about making the transition. You can only start realizing the benefits of EHRs after putting in the considerable work of transitioning from your current system.

The good news is that you can make the process go much more smoothly by learning from communities that have already taken the plunge. Here are 11 tips to make your EHR implementation go well.

1. Make Vendor Choice a Group Decision

Choosing the right EHR system is crucial. Each community is different, and each EHR offers slightly different functionalities and support structures. To make sure you choose a system that meets your community’s needs, involve a variety of leaders, including…

  • A nursing director who can speak to the day-to-day needs and capabilities of CNAs who will be using the system.
  • IT leaders, who can verify that the software meets security requirements and can function with your community’s existing infrastructure.
  • The community director, who has a bird’s-eye view of what functionalities and reporting capabilities the system needs to include.
  • A chief care officer or other executive-level leader, who can advocate for any cross-campus and bigger-picture essentials.

Getting buy-in from various parts of your community at the beginning helps ensure that the software you choose is truly the one best suited to the work you do.

2. Identify Top Pain Points You Want the EHR to Solve

Again, every EHR is a little different. Whether your community is most concerned with better managing state-level assessments and due dates, communicating with resident families, improving the productivity of your staff, improving the consistency of your care, or something else, get your needs on paper when you start your EHR search.

This should be a collaborative effort among the leaders mentioned above. Once you have your list of essential features, you have a rubric to judge potential systems.

3. Take Advantage of Demos

Nothing substitutes for seeing the software in action. Again, loop many types of leaders into software demonstrations so they can ask questions relevant to their stakeholders. A nursing director may want to know whether ADL input screens are responsive for CNAs working from tablets; a community director may be interested in learning what types of reports can be automated.

(Want to see a demo of Caremerge? Let us know!)

4. Choose a Vendor with Similar Values

EHR implementation is a significant undertaking. You can’t afford to partner with a vendor that doesn’t have plans to be in the industry for the long haul. If you don’t have a robust in-house IT department, you’ll probably need to choose a vendor with a strong customer support department.

Choosing a vendor that shares your outlook, is committed to maintaining the system for the long term, and offers the level of support you need will help ensure not only a smooth implementation but also years of successful use.

5. Designate In-House Super Users

This is one strategy we’ve seen work again and again at communities that implement CareMerge’s EHR: Establish an internal team of users who will learn the software inside and out. This team will work closely with the vendor to help them understand your community and then serve as the point people for your community users who have questions about the system.

The members of this super-user team should…

  • Know your community well.
  • Be reasonably tech-savvy.
  • Have a desire to take on a modest leadership role.
  • Be willing to help train and support their colleagues.

Of note: this can be a great leadership opportunity for team members who have expressed interest in taking on that kind of responsibility.

6. Communicate with Everyone Affected

The EHR implementation will affect every aspect of your community, changing the way CNAs and other frontline staff do their jobs. Without advance warning, that kind of change can be disruptive and can cause resistance.

To get buy-in and ensure that your staff is excited about the transition, communicate your plans early and often. We recommend letting everyone know as soon as you’ve made the decision to switch to an EHR. To the degree possible, get their input throughout the process. This may look like including super-users on product demos, having regular update meetings to fill staff in on the status of the project, and even asking those who have worked with EHRs before about features they’d like to see.

7. Question Existing Processes

Implementing any new process is difficult. When you introduce an EHR system, you’ve got a golden opportunity to question the way you’re doing things around your community. If the answer to “Why do we do it this way?” is “Because we always have,” there’s probably an opportunity to improve.

8. Create Detailed Training Materials

Confusion causes stress. If your training sessions or materials are unclear or insufficiently detailed, you’ll spend a lot of time answering questions and clarifying ambiguities.

Creating highly detailed training sessions and materials will cost extra time on the back end but will save you lots of time during actual training, which means your staff can get up to speed faster. One community that implemented CareMerge had great results with a training manual they created with screenshots of every screen their CNAs would need to use to record ADLs.

9. Take Advantage of Shortcuts to Save Time

Good news: you may be able to automate some parts of the EHR implementation. If you use billing software, for example, you may be able to import resident data to the EHR rather than entering it manually.

10. … But Set Time aside to Check for Mistakes

Any time you automate a process, of course, it’s essential to spot check for accuracy. Build this verification time into your rollout schedule so you’re not scrambling to fix mistakes and falling behind in the process.

11. Do a Fake Launch before the Real Thing

When the training is complete, do a mock go-live at your community. This forces your staff to use the EHR in real-life settings, which can reveal questions and problems that would never come up in training. It also lets you address those problems without disrupting daily life in your community.

After a mock launch, your staff and leadership will be much better prepared for the real launch, and that day will inevitably go more smoothly. And when the day finally does come, consider celebrating. It will be a journey, and it’s worth making a big deal when you get where you’re going.

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