EMR conversion: your first step on the road to EHR implementation

The journey to a successful EHR implementation will require your practice to convert existing patient information to an electronic format. This task can be arduous and you will need to determine which data sets need converting and how far you will backdate your EMR conversion. The increased efficiency of an EHR system will likely lead to improved cost savings over paper charting in the long term, but the process of converting the files into digital format can be costly and time consuming.

Sourcing resources for a conversion project

You should begin by asking your chosen EHR vendor if they offer any support in the EMR conversion process; be sure to enquire about the cost of these services though as they won’t come cheap. If your vendor does not offer support, you may have to utilize in-house staff or consider outsourcing the process.

Recommended reading: EHR selection survival guide - 7 steps to selection success

If you decide to utilize in-house resources to convert your paper charts to a digital format, you must be aware of potential burnout and staff frustration. You will most likely need to pay overtime or hire a temporary staff to support the process. If you outsource the process, there will be less burden on existing staff, but you will pay for that privilege.

Identifying what data to convert (and what not to)

Be sure that you have a good understanding of what needs to be converted; one of the primary causes of inefficient EMR conversion is the inclusion of too much or too little data. Start by consulting with your new EHR vendor as they will be able to provide you with a list of required and supported data sets. Questions to ask include:

  • What data sets are required by the system?
  • From our remaining data, what does your system support or recognize?
  • How far back in the patient history would you recommend we go with the digital record?
  • Should we store paper charts as a backup, or do you offer backup facilities?
  • Will the information be manually inputted into the new EHR system, or can the EMR conversion be automated? It is important to note the final format in the conversion process; simply uploading PDF versions of paper patient records may be time efficient, but you will have very little ability to search this data in the future.

Converting all your paper records will give you the most accessible information on the EHR platform, but it will likely be unnecessary. Focus on patients that you have seen over the last one to two years. These patients will most likely encompass your current patient clientele. You may choose to enter the demographic information (contact information, birthdate, insurance/ID numbers) into your EHR system and then scan and upload PDF documents of evaluation notes. This way, you can search your EHR system for the patient, but then you will manually view historical encounter notes.

If your vendor does not provide a backup service for your data (or if you are not willing to pay for this service), it is important that you keep all of your paper records in a secure and safe storage for a length of time that should be determined by your local governmental/legal guidelines. You may need to contact a medical attorney to determine local regulations for the length of time your practice will need to hold paper charts. Of course, when it is determined that you no longer need the paper documents, then you must protect patient privacy and dispose of these documents accordingly.

Once you have planned allocation of resources and the scope of your EMR conversion, you may want to sit down with a cup of coffee and relax. Unfortunately, the challenges are only beginning; converted data means nothing unless you can *migrate it to the new system.

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Amy Vant

About the author…

Amy Vant is a doctor of physical therapy and clinical director for an outpatient physical therapy clinic in the United States. She has experience utilizing and implementing many forms of medical documentation through various healthcare practice venues. Amy enjoys writing about healthcare administration strategies, including electronic health record systems.

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Amy Vant

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