Latest Thinking

Tips to transition to a new EMR: what to consider when switching

June 3, 2019

The ELNA medical clinic in Saint-Mathieu-de-Belœil took the plunge and changed from one EMR system to another. This is the story of one clinic’s journey.

Why change EMR solutions?
Every EMR solution has its advantages… and its limitations. That’s why, when the time comes to make a choice, it’s important to know what features you’re looking for. While all EMRs are designed to optimize clinic management and streamline continuity of care, each one has its own unique features and responds to distinct needs.

Of course, these needs evolve over time. The features you needed in an EMR five years ago don’t always reflect what you expect from it today. That’s why the solutions have to adapt and change as well.

Transcending limitations
After several years of working successfully with their very first EMR, Dr. Sabrina Baril and Dr. Émilie Boisvert, co-FMG directors and shareholders in the clinic, set out to find a value-added model that would resolve certain problems. Their goal? Versatility and flexibility of execution.

But change often gives rise to misgivings as well. How would they convince their colleagues to make the leap to a new EMR system?

Action… Reaction… Solutions
Before taking action, they had to counter the potential for opposition. After all, switching from paper to digital records when the first EMR was deployed five years earlier had unleashed a whole range of emotions.

A healthy dose of interaction with their colleagues was going to be essential. So Dr. Baril and Dr. Boisvert gave every member of the team a chance to express their thoughts. The clinic’s executive committee was able to narrow the choice down to just two EMR options.

Physicians and staff members met with representatives of the two different companies behind these EMRs for a full presentation of each solution. The meetings were enough to convince everyone that the two options they had chosen were both valid… but how to decide between them?

Building on trust
When it was finally time to choose, the one key factor that tipped the scale was the quality of the clinic’s existing relationship with the provider:

“We already had an excellent relationship of trust which made it easier for the rest of the medical team to accept the change. We knew we could be sure that the provider that had always supported us in the past would do a good job migrating the data from one EMR to the other.”

While there were still plenty of concerns, the positive relationship that had previously been established with the provider was a decisive advantage.

The keys to change
Once the whole team had united behind the choice of EMR, it was time to talk strategy. After all, a change this big requires preparation. What aspects need to be considered before taking action? What’s the right way to manage the transition?

The ELNA clinic’s experience points to two factors that require special attention:

  • Communication
  • Planning

In both of these areas, the young doctors encountered challenges that forced them to adjust their approach quickly. Examples? While the schedule initially proposed by the provider was clear, the planned deployment date was a source of confusion. This turned out to be a major irritant with unfortunate consequences: the co-owners had to go to their team at a late date to explain how the process was going to unfold. In addition, the transition to the new EMR was happening over the summer, when many doctors were on vacation. How would they plan staff training sessions during vacation season? Providing careful monitoring and follow-up with all of their doctors in record time was one of their biggest challenges.

Dealing with the unexpected
Six months after the transition, Dr. Boisvert and Dr. Baril remember a difficult point during the implementation phase. With hindsight, their diagnosis is clear: “Everyone underestimated the amount of work this change would involve.”

“Most of our team thought that since they were already used to working with one EMR, they could learn the new one really quickly. But understanding a new EMR involves new ways of doing things, new functionalities and new habits. Also, while some of the terms may be the same, they don’t always mean the same thing from one EMR to the next. An adjustment phase is inevitable.”

But at least they could count on a fast, helpful response from the provider for even the smallest problems: “We had really great support from the technicians and representatives,” they say.

Significant improvements
At the ELNA clinic, the adjustment period took three months. The team is now very satisfied with the change and appreciate the new functionalities, even stating that “we wouldn’t want to go back to the old system.” The new EMR is delivering the positive results that the team was expecting. All in all, the clinic is in excellent health.

Doctor’s orders
Having learned from their own experience, the co-owners have some words of advice for others who want to take the plunge:

“Before committing to this process, first ask yourself: do you really want or have to change your EMR?”

If the answer is yes, give yourselves the tools you need for a smooth migration:

  1. Once the project schedule has been established, schedule bi-weekly meetings with the physician in charge of the change.
  2. Train a “super-user” or “champion” one month before the EMR is deployed.
  3. Train other members of the team at least two weeks before the new system goes into operation.
  4. Coordinate training and implementation with the doctors so that you know when they’ll be available.
  5. Train the doctors (two options: basic or advanced).
  6. Provide access permissions, user credentials and the instruction manual three to four weeks before the rollout.
  7. Plan to have additional support staff on site for at least two to three days post your EMR Go Live date.

Three tips for your early days with the EMR

  • Familiarize yourself with the new EMR before meeting with patients.
    (Test and create role-playing scenarios as if the patient were there, and do this with all possible patient types – obstetrics, paediatrics, etc. Practice writing prescriptions, using forms, etc.)
  • Double the length of your appointments.
  • Organize workshops at the clinic with team members to exchange helpful tips and tricks.