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August 13, 2011 News No Comments

What’s In an Upgrade?

There is much excitement in the community. EHR software vendors are rolling out their long awaited Meaningful Use product upgrades. There has been so much anticipation for the new features and functionality, as well as standardization across platforms. 

It’s hard to imagine that this process could be painful. In your excitement, are you considering the scope of the upgrade and impact it will have on your practice?

In the ambulatory practice setting, these upgrades should be treated with the same respect and degree of planning as a new software implementation. The phenomenon I am seeing in the community we serve is that many practices are assuming that since they are already users of the software, they can get by the upgrade process with little extra effort.

A few recommendations from the trenches:

  1. Recognize the scope of the upgrade and share this with everyone in the practice, providers and staff alike.
  2. Set appropriate expectations for everyone.
  3. Take full advantage of any and all upgrade training provided by your vendor. Reading a release notes document will not suffice.
  4. Plan as if you were getting new software.  Assign an internal project manager or point person to coordinate upgrade expectations with your vendor’s project manager. Document your contingency plan, so when things don’t go according to plan, you are still able to see patients. Print schedules and progress notes for the day of and day after upgrade. Reduce your schedules for the day of/after upgrade. Plan to have vendor support on site for day of/after upgrade if possible, even if it costs you money. It’s more costly to try and figure it out on your own or on the phone with 1-800helpme support when things are going wrong.
  5. Coordinate the upgrade with your IT team. If that is an external party who will not be performing the upgrade itself, they still need to be part of the process to ensure that your hardware and network are up to spec and be on hand or on call for any IT issues that arise out of the upgrade or that could prevent the upgrade from completing successfully.
  6. Communicate with your patients. If they know that you are in the process of upgrading prior to or on arrival for their visit, they will be less intolerant when there are delays. Let them know that you have taken all the steps possible to anticipate their needs and make their visit as smooth as possible.
  7. Breathe! Try to keep your sanity as you move through the changes of your software and adapt your processes. Just like with a new software implementation, it can be difficult to master the new functionality at first, but in time, you will gain proficiency and a sense of normalcy.

If you are fortunate enough to have purchased software from a vendor that continually develops their product, then upgrade planning and implementation will be an ongoing part of your business processes. Work with your vendor to develop an estimated frequency for upgrades and plan and budget for these events so that they are not dreaded disruptions, but rather the valued improvements they are intended to be.

Julie McGovern is CEO of Practice Wise, LLC.

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