The Stoltenberg Blog

Healthcare technology insights for competitive value-based care strategy

How to Successfully Catch Up on Overdue EHR New Version Upgrades Part II

By Joncé Smith, Vice President of Revenue Cycle Management

A successful EHR new version upgrade requires three key ingredients: detailed and thorough planning, deliberate and consistent communication, and diligent teamwork. Especially when attempting a multi-version upgrade, two of the most significant disruptors often are lack of leadership and lack of understanding. However, as noted in Part I of this blog series, involving other departments outside of IT can go a long way toward easing those issues.

Accordingly, here are some additional best practices hospital CIOs can adopt to smooth the processes involved in planning and making multi-jump EHR new version upgrades:

  • Designate responsibilities. Pre-event planning is particularly beneficial for applications that cross multiple departments. When end users know what to expect, ticket counts stay low. So, outline a deliberate communication schedule utilizing multiple communication channels to deploy at least two weeks before the go-live date. For example, screen banners, announcements and staff memos can ease communication and keep others informed of the go-live event date and time.

    Key players' responsibilities also should be determined well ahead of the date. Consider designating an event leader once testing is complete. The leader should be very familiar with IT protocol and the application itself. This will be quite valuable if something unexpected happens that needs a quick decision.

  • Schedule the go-live timeframe carefully. Timing of the actual upgrades' go-live event requires special contemplation. It's useful to set a tentative target date before initiating testing. The date can then be reviewed midway through testing and moved if needed. When scheduling a go live, focus on the fact that successful testing takes time, and that testing success is more critical than achieving a pre-selected go-live date.

    If the application is mission-critical, selecting a go-live date and timeframe compels hospital leaders to think about which departments rely on the application for patient care. Hospital leaders must account for shift changes, as well as routine department activities (e.g., end-of-month reporting) that might be impacted. Don't forget about other teams' maintenance schedules.

    End-user usage times can help select the least disruptive go-live timeframe. Healthcare leaders also should press the EHR vendor for a solid idea of how long the downtime will last. The go-live date should be planned and coordinated with the health system's EHR vendor support staff. If the application is hosted within the vendor's data center, the vendor team will need to be heavily involved in the date selection process. Healthcare organizations that host their application locally still should have vendor support staff ready in case something arises during the go live that requires their assistance.

  • Keep up the communication. Staff for the upgrade event should include participants from the vendor, IT staff who support the application, at least one member from the interface team, and non-IT staff from crucial departments who will perform the final live scenario. Two days before the event, go-live leaders should hold one last planning call to answer any outstanding questions from participants.

    Then, during go live, run a bridge conference line to keep those involved both aware and working in unison. Have a small team of critical end users perform a few operational testing scenarios before releasing the environment to all end users. This last-stage testing usually is 100% successful when teams have done adequate preparation and planning.

Using these best practices, hospital CIOs can achieve the ultimate success: a multi-version new upgrade event praised by end users as a "non-event." It is absolutely possible to catch up on EHR upgrades without sacrificing cross-organization operational success, quality testing and vendor compliance. The key is for the IT department to work closely with the other departments it serves to build mutual rapport, trust and respect — and ultimately drive success all across the evolving health system to align mission critical change.

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