A template for your EHR project timeline

Given the number of variables that can either increase or decrease the time needed for an EHR implementation the typical time needed for EHR implementation vary according to by setting and by product. As such, one cannot easily find a standard timeline for EHR implementation. However, the steps involved in implementation can be analyzed to provide a clear picture as to the distribution of the implementation workload and provide a clear vision as to the steps in the process that can lengthen the implementation. The following points highlight the main steps and their impact on the overall EHR project timeline to get from vendor selection to go live.

1. Demonstrations and evaluation

How long the EHR demonstration and evaluation take, depends on the number of vendors being auditioned and how the demonstration and evaluation process is conducted. Some vendors offer a remote demonstration of their product whereas others allow potential purchasers to “test drive” their product in house. The time this phase takes depends on the amount of research and consideration invested by the consumer and the ability of the vendor to accommodate such requests. With favorable scheduling this process should add no more than three months to your EHR project timeline.

2. Selection and negotiation

The process of identifying and selecting an EHR vendor represents a portion of implementation that can hold serious long-term consequences if not properly conducted. As such, the process of EHR selection and negotiation is perhaps one of the more research-intensive and deliberative portions of implementation. When considering all of the steps, practices are well advised to allow adequate time to complete this task in a thorough fashion. If a practice relies on an implementation team to arrive at a selection decision and will consider the input from stakeholders, at least, a month (or more) should be allotted to complete this phase of your EHR project timeline.

Recommended Reading: EHR Selection Survival Guide - Your companion to EHR selection

3. Implementation planning

Whether the planning phase occupies the largest portion of the budgeted time spent on implementation depends on organizational realities. Complex organizations such as a hospital system with a number of departments will clearly require more intensive implementation planning; whereas a smaller ambulatory practice will require less planning. The length of implementation planning can also be shortened if a clear plan can be developed; however if the plan is vague or requires a number of contingencies this stage can take longer than anticipated. Given its importance the eHR project timeline for planning should be viewed as long as it takes to fully map out the process. In some cases a practice could complete this phase in a month, larger organizations may need up to six months.

4. Training and preparation

Implementing a rigorous training program on the incoming EHR serves as the backbone of a thorough EHR implementation. As such, many practices will view the training component of implementation as one of the variables that can be controlled when trying to avoid workflow disruptions and overall lost productivity. As an example, a 2010 study of 26 Texas-based, five-physician primary care practices found an average of 52.5 hours of training was required across the organizations, while the system’s physician end-users received an average of 23.9 hours of training. As such, one can devise a time estimate by taking these averages and increasing them in light of the organization’s size.

Time is money as the old saying goes. Accordingly, time spent implementing an EHR should be viewed as an investment. Unfortunately, there is not a standard formula for determining the EHR project timeline for implementation; however understanding the potential problem areas in an EHR implementation can provide a great deal of insight into what portions will consume the most amount of time. For example, a practice who will be faced with a range of viable EHR options may want to spend more time on selection, whereas a practice whose staff may be averse to a new EHR may spend more time on training and orientation.

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Jeff Green

About the author…

Jeff Green, MPH, JD works as a freelance writer and consultant in the Healthcare information Technology Space.

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Jeff Green