Four strategies for maintaining patient satisfaction during EHR implementation

During the EHR implementation process, a practice risks losing drops in customer satisfaction levels.

Primarily, practices risk losing productivity among clinical and administrative staff which can result in longer wait times and long times required to provide care. An often-cited study from Medical Economics indicates that during the peak portion of the implementation period, “you can expect to see up to 50% fewer patients.”

It is important to note when considering patient satisfaction one of the main drivers of patient satisfaction involves wait times. A nationwide study of over 34,000 doctor’s reviews on Google+ reviews of doctors, group medical practices, clinics, and hospitals found that 35% of complaints were related to long wait times. Given that productivity suffers during implementation accepted wisdom would also state that the ability to serve patients in a timely manner will also suffer.

Install new software successfully with this six-step guide to EHR implementation success

A recent study published in the Journal of Oncology provides evidence that during the initial stages of implementation of an EHR -  the practices the study examined experienced significant increases in patient wait-time and reduced clinical efficiencies. Given the potential for lost productivity during implementation and associated increases in wait times, what strategies can a practice implement to mitigate potential patient satisfaction issues related increased wait times?

1. Strategically plan for downtime

One of the unavoidable headaches with an EHR implementation relates to downtime when all or portions of the system are not available due to installation. During the implementation process downtime can be planned for times of the day or night when it is less likely wait times will be affected.

2. Give staff information to warn patients about potential delays

The study referenced above cites that 53% of patient complaints were related to a lack of communication from their providers. With the benefit of knowing when systems will be down, when the downtime will begin, and how long the system will be unavailable, a useful strategy for mitigating patient dissatisfaction involves making sure frontline staff are able to provide patients with accurate information about implementation may impact their patient experience. They can then provide them with an opportunity to schedule around implementation.      

3. Create a realistic training schedule for staff

One of the other key problems practices encounter when trying to lessen the impact of implementation on patient wait times relates to staffing during EHR training.  This can be done by scheduling training during non-peak times or conducting gradual training that does not require the substantial portions of the staff to be away from their clinical or administrative duties at once.

4. Have a solid change management plan in place

Any organization that has experienced a successful EHR implementation and rollout will attest to the fact that they were able to have a solid implementation plan in place that was able to account for potential problems that could arise during the implantation process. A thorough change management plan should not only address the technical side of implementation but also how staff will react to the implementation, particularly in the areas of planning for software testing, staff training and designing workflows so that disruption to services is mitigated.  

EHRs can accomplish a great deal in the area of improving patient satisfaction. However, increased wait times during the process of implementing an EHR can potentially create bad feelings between patients and providers that could carry over past the implementation phase. As such, taking proactive steps to mitigate increased can avoid potential patient satisfaction pitfalls.

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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