8 Steps to Creating a Solid EHR Foundation – Breakaway Thinking

The following is a guest blog post by Noelle Whang, Sr. Instructional Designer at The Breakaway Group (A Xerox Company). Check out all of the blog posts in the Breakaway Thinking series.
Noelle Whang
Implementing an electronic health record (EHR) is a huge undertaking, but the work after go live can be even more demanding. Mapping and redesigning workflows is an important aspect of EHR implementation and optimization that is often overlooked, especially after the application has been live for a while.  This seemingly simple but complex task involves diagraming and analyzing all current work processes and adjusting them to include use of a new EHR system or upgrade, or to be more effective with a current system.

Workflow mapping and redesign should occur before implementation and regularly after go live to ensure end users truly adopt the EHR and organizational benefits are realized. Following these eight steps can ease the task of mapping workflows to identify any that should be adjusted to maximize optimization:

  1. Identify what workflows will need to be mapped in detail. “Understanding the full clinical context for health IT to the level of task, resources, and workflow is a necessary prerequisite for successful adoption of health IT,” according to a Perspectives in Health Information Management article. It’s helpful to first map out the entire patient care process at a high level, such as from registration to discharge in the inpatient setting and scheduling to check-out in the ambulatory setting. Documenting how business is performed at a high-level facilitates identifying the more granular tasks that need to be mapped in detail, such as scheduling a patient appointment or placing verbal orders.  It also helps in identifying all the roles involved in each workflow, as these can vary depending on the department or patient process.  For example, discharging a patient from Labor and Delivery may include roles, such as a lactation nurse and pediatrician, not found in other departments.  Remember to also consider departments or patient processes that are often overlooked, such as Materials Management and Respiratory Therapy. Other areas of concentration should be those with lower productivity or that relate to how the organization is going to determine return on investment.
  1. Identify teams to map out each process. After identifying what workflows need to be mapped, establish the team that will do the actual mapping. Usually, individuals who perform a particular workflow or those who are responsible for implementing any redesign changes are best suited to map workflows, as they have in-depth knowledge of the process. For example, select one registrar, one nurse and one physician to map out all workflows in the Emergency Department.
  1. Determine the process for mapping the workflows. Once the team has been identified, determine how information about workflows will be gathered, documented, and visually represented. The process for gathering information can be through interviews, observation, or meetings.  The information can be documented with tools such as Microsoft Word or Visio or simply on paper.  The data can be represented in formats such as a swim lane chart, a flow process chart or other process diagrams.   In my experience mapping out workflows, the most commonly used format is a swim lane chart created through Visio.  And remember: Internal staff will most likely need to be trained on how to gather the data and use the appropriate tools.
  1. Map the workflow as actually performed. After determining how information is gathered and documented, create the actual workflows diagrams.  Document all work as it is currently being performed, including any undesirable behavior such as workarounds or inconsistencies.  For a case study on how one organization created their workflow diagrams, see the following Journal of American Medical Information Association article.
  1. Analyze the workflow. Once the workflows are diagramed, begin the analysis. If a vendor has not been selected, use the diagrams to determine if a particular application fits the needs of your organization, with the caveat that it is neither feasible nor desirable to keep workflows exactly the same after an implementation.  If the application is already in place, the diagrams can be used to determine where problems are occurring, what the root cause is, and how to fix them.  The diagrams can also be used to determine where optimization or efficiencies may be gained.
  1. Document the new workflow. Once the analysis is complete and you have determined what workflows are currently not working for your organization, document the new and improved workflow.  It is a good idea to take the new workflows through a couple of use-case scenarios to ensure that the updates are not causing other problems or unintended consequences.
  1. Update or create policies and procedures. New or updated policies and procedures may be necessary to implement and support the new workflow. This can include determining consequences for any end users that do not adhere to the new workflows.  Note that this also requires thinking about how non-adherence will be identified, perhaps through routine application audits or quarterly in-department observation.
  1. Train staff. After all the hard lifting of creating the workflow diagrams, analyzing the processes and updating the workflows, the last step is to train end users on the new workflows, policies and procedures.  Remember to convey why the changes are occurring, and if possible, tie the reasons to big-ticket items such as increasing patient safety and satisfaction.

It’s easy to focus entirely on big tasks such as vendor selection and system configuration when implementing an EHR, but neglecting workflows can have serious negative impacts, including costly reconfigurations and operational inefficiencies.  It’s like building a house where each individual room is perfect, but the doors are all in the wrong place. With poor design you end up having to go through the closet to get to the kitchen, or even worse the foundation may begin to crack.  Similarly, with poorly designed EHR workflows, you can end up with duplicate documentation, activities that take more time than they should, and workarounds or shortcuts that can lead to negative consequences. Set your healthcare organization up for success and create a solid foundation by making workflow mapping and redesign a priority.

Xerox is a sponsor of the Breakaway Thinking series of blog posts. The Breakaway Group is a leader in EHR and Health IT training.

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  • Much good, practical advice. Three thoughts:

    o Teams to do the documentation. Representatives should have a say when looking at the big picture, not just when getting into the weeds.

    o Documentation. There are several good, methodologies and systems for mapping workflows. One should be selected early in the process and the team trained in its use.

    o Requirements Analysis. Workflow analysis, as she points out, is critical. It’s part of a good requirements analysis approach.

    Selecting an EHR is not a matter of picking a package. It’s an important part of developing a new, useable system, but only part.

  • Good points and very useful advice. A few additional insights: (1) a healthcare practioner’s chosen provider must certainly also understand the workflow; (2) sometimes consulting with a provider leads to a more holistic approach to EHR adaptation. At the MPAA Group, we find it more effective when streamlining an organization’s or a solo pratice’s workflow is driven by the voice of both the practitioner/s and the service provider.

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