Four Best Practices for Coordinating EHR Vendor Relationships and Software System Upgrades

In the compiling list of IT responsibilities, EHR system new version upgrades may seem like a major nuisance for many healthcare facilities, especially in mapping out and testing the updates' impact on coordinating systems and applications, scheduling the actual go-live time, and designating responsibilities. In these vital decisions that enable continued system support and cross-organizational flow and functionality, any wrong move could trickle to unanticipated downtime, priority-one tickets, and limited clinician or business office access to patient records and claims processing. Enabling competitive health system growth and operational efficiency, utilize the following four best practice recommendations to make the most of EHR vendor relationships and successfully lead upgrade planning and implementation.

  1. Knowing the limit on outdated versions
    Do not allow your facilities to get further than two versions behind the most recent software release. Falling behind not only causes significant stress, catch-up work and vendor pressure, it also places a health system at greater risk of failing or missing something during testing. This will ultimately cause hidden issues that likely won't be known until after the organization's upgrades migrate to the production environment. Most EHR software vendors now have clauses within their contracts on how closely hospitals and health systems must stay up to date on version releases. When not adhered to, your organization can be declared out of compliance, which realistically can translate to the vendor not having to be responsible to assist when you run into an issue. On top of smoothing vendor relations and support, taking advantage of recent releases with new functionality can be very rewarding to your end-user community, both clinical and operational, and decrease the number of issues for IT staff, ultimately driving down IT tickets and support costs.

  2. Maintaining consistent, accountable vendor meetings
    Hold frequent calls or meetings with your EHR vendor account management team to stay in the know of new changes and any issues that have been identified. Depending on your organization size, hold these weekly for a large multi-hospital health system and biweekly for smaller facilities. Beyond such meetings, sign up for vendor newsletters, user groups, notices and alerts. Your vendor relationship is your own to create and maintain. Take advantage of the your EHR vendor team – they are always on top of industry standards, regulatory adjustments, cybersecurity concerns, upcoming changes and other findings at similar client health systems. Knowing them on a first name basis and building a strong rapport are invaluable assets.

  3. Conducting internal testing
    Maintain an internal software functionality testing team. Members of this team should consist of end users from all departments where the system is deployed. IT analysts know the internal workings of a system, but they cannot replace the knowledge of a true end user on how the system is used on a daily basis. Your ultimate target for an upgrade team should be a blend of IT analysts who support the daily system operations with a number of top end users. Having this blend of resources for your upgrade team dramatically increases your upgrade success rate, but it also lets IT gain traction on the rollout of the new software. Complete a preview of the upgrade documentation in the early planning stages of your upgrade to identify which members of your upgrade team are needed for the release's testing and approval. This also strengthens cross-organization buy in for future IT initiatives.

  4. Investing in your EHR beyond purchase
    Participate in trade shows, third-party vendor evaluations, end-user group meetings and regional or national meetings that your vendor provides. Investigate other systems and openly discuss your findings with your present EHR vendor representatives. Sharing your thoughts can open conversations regarding future upgrade functionality. You may find that your present system can expand functionality or new tools not originally taken advantage of when released. Healthcare will never remain constant; the science and technology supporting it has to change and adapt to the new needs and requirements of our environments. Your leadership and end-user feedback can help propel that change for improved patient care journeys and competitive health system growth.

For more healthcare leadership strategic insight, stay tuned to updates from the Stoltenberg blog.

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