A plan for a healthy system selection process

By Ilyana Rosenberg
08:35 AM

Is your organization thinking of moving to a new practice management (PM) or electronic health record (EHR) system? Are you uncertain as to how to begin tackling this task of selecting a new system? Are you worried that your organization will be paralyzed at the conclusion of the process, unable to make a decision? The following plan will provide some structure for what you need to consider during a system selection process to help avoid encountering unexpected obstacles:

  1. Effective and Frequent Communication:

Communication begins on Day 1. Use this initial step in the process to bring all executives to the table to ensure every work item is addressed for each department as appropriate and clear strategic goals are identified. IT, operations, revenue cycle, and clinical staff should all be included in this discussion. A conflict between these departments can occur if common goals and a clear vision are not established and agreed upon by everyone up front, which can ultimately result in paralysis when the time comes for a final decision.

IT staff may advocate for a system that is easiest to manage from a technical standpoint (one that reduces risk of technical error, requires fewer end user staff, or needs less maintenance). Conversely, clinical staff may be purely focused on a system that has an easy-to-use user interface that will be less time consuming to learn and more efficient to navigate compared to the user interfaces of other potential vendors. The Central Business Office (CBO) may prefer another vendor. It is important to identify each department’s agendas and needs prior to beginning the system selection process so that they can be discussed and addressed. It is more difficult to resolve conflicts of interest later in the decision-making process.

Some questions that should be asked during initial vendor selection discussions include:

  • What are the goals of each department for selecting a new PM or EHR system?
  • What is the timeline for selecting and implementing the new system?
  • What is your organization’s budget for a new system?
  • What are the critical components of a system that will make or break your decision?
  • What is the overall vision for how the new system will benefit your organization?
  • How does this new system fit into your overall organizational plans and initiatives going forward?

Active communications must continue throughout the entire project. After the selection process has kicked off, coordinate weekly meetings with the core work group to discuss progress and address any concerns identified that week. Make sure to frequently bring all main stakeholders back into this conversation to keep them in the loop. Communication is a critical component to success. You cannot stress this piece enough during the system selection process.

  1. Detailed Project Plan:

Developing a project plan is a great method for brainstorming all necessary components of a project and understanding how each piece will fit together as the project develops. The project plan should include the basic components of a system selection process, including:

  • Analysis of the current PM or EHR system to identify the functionality that is missing from the current system and confirm the reasoning for moving to a new vendor
  • RFP development that incorporates any technical and functional requirements that the new system will need to include
  • Vendor demonstrations and site visits to view the functionality of each system
  • Evaluation of the vendor pricing and contract negotiations to view the feasibility of purchasing and implementing the chosen vendor given your budget and revenue

Additionally, the plan should mention any items specific to your organization, such as interface planning and scoping out the technical requirements if your practices are located in numerous locations.

As you work through the system selection process, refer back to the project plan frequently to ensure that you are on track. If you find yourself drifting from the initial timeline, bring the concerns to the main stakeholder group and consider the need to modify the timeframe. Critically think about the reasoning for the extension of the timeline and be prepared to make adjustments accordingly. Make sure that the decision to push out the timeframe is approved by all appropriate executives and stakeholders involved in the project. Update the project plan and re-distribute the plan to members of the selection team, identifying any items that are impacted by this change and proposing a plan for addressing those impacted areas.  

  1. Sufficient Due Diligence:

Once a common vision and comprehensive communication plan has been established that incorporates all departments and stakeholders, due diligence must be performed to identify any problems areas that need to be resolved before a new system selection is implemented. It is a common misconception that putting in a new PM or EHR system will resolve all problems your organization is experiencing. A new system may solve many of the problems; however, the fundamental organizational and operational issues need to be addressed first for these resolutions to be successful.

Completing due diligence prior to initiation of the system selection process will help ensure that you are achieving the most out of your new system. Some questions you should consider during the due diligence process include:

  • What are the main areas of concern currently in your organization?
  • Are these problems related to the current system or are they due to operational or organizational challenges that can be resolved without implementing a new system?
  • What areas need to be addressed prior to selecting and implementing a new system? Which areas will require a longer term effort and can wait until after the system selection process to be addressed?
  • What are the workflows that require manual intervention or workarounds that are not resolved by implementing a new system?

Answering these questions will help you avoid reaching the end of the system selection and implementation process only to realize that your problems prior to the new system still persist.

  1. Appropriate Plan to Address Issues:

Even if you have completed a detailed project plan, outlined a comprehensive communication plan, and performed proper due diligence, issues may still arise during the system selection process.  An appropriate plan for issue management can help you resolve those problems that may arise and stay on your feet making targeted progress toward your goal. This plan could include reaching out to the executive sponsors of the project, scheduling a meeting with all stakeholders, and identifying the appropriate individuals to complete each task so the resolution process can be timely and effective. Be sure to develop an escalation plan for issues that will significantly impact the project timeline.

These four components create a foundation for your organization to conduct a successful system selection process. As each organization is different, each process will be unique. It is up to you to choose or modify the strategy to best fit your organization.