In a continuum marked by mergers, acquisitions, and the quest for operational efficiency, EHR consolidation has become an ongoing concern for healthcare administrators. But despite the push to consolidate, many organizations aren’t.
One recent study found 39% of acquired hospitals kept their original EHR system, even though it didn’t match the acquirer’s. Authors suggested the trend could thwart the promises of M&As.
What’s driving this? Well, the obvious: Moving from one EHR to another takes time, resources, and money—and it can stress out the people involved. Yet, it doesn’t have to be painful if you follow these tips:
Think beyond IT
First, a mindset change: EHR consolidations are not just an IT project. They’re an operational undertaking—one done with IT partners for sure, but a challenge still shared enterprise-wide.
When approaching EHR consolidations this way, all stakeholders have a voice. It can turn an otherwise stressful mess into a better and more efficient experience—which in turn promotes value across financial returns, patient experience, clinician satisfaction, resourcing, and more.
Define your approach and get everyone aligned
Once EHR consolidation becomes an operational initiative, more people get involved. That’s a good thing! But to avoid having too many cooks in the kitchen without a clear path forward, systems should align everyone at the outset.
“Everyone” includes business front-line leaders who will partner with their peers from all facilities. Your roster may vary, but it could consist of CMOs, CNOs, and a whole host of knowledge support across CMIO, CNIO, CxIO, and other roles.
With this group, define the strategy, objectives, and responsibilities. Determine how teams can collaborate and foster relationship-building early on, so participants know where they belong in the bigger picture.
Prioritize project planning
A strong project plan creates a strong foundation. And that will require a team of project managers to set realistic timelines, sequences, and resource management.
As you plan, think through application rationalization—the process of deciding what stays, what goes, and how those decisions influence factors like timing and cost. This step requires a third-party application assessment to cross-map what facilities use and identify integration opportunities. You’ll also want to make time for vendor engagement to confirm the scope, finalize negotiations, and onboard new relationships and resources.
Focus on leading with empathy, prioritizing people as much as process to ensure you’ve got the technology and talent to take on new systems. Remember: Resources aren’t just about headcount. You’ll need to align the right skillsets to the right tasks, an increasingly hard job in this tight labor market.
Set up solid data governance
In the commotion of EHR consolidation, data management can get overlooked—or at least under-prioritized. So ahead of this herculean effort, you’ll need to consider everything that falls into data integration, from conversions and warehousing to what happens to data from retired systems post-implementation. Indeed, legacy EHR support planning may be just as important as consolidation itself.
For more consistency enterprise-wide, align decisions to the organization’s overarching data governance policy. For example, that might mean tying into standardized KPIs and definitions.
At the same time, many health systems don’t have data retention policies. This can create team confusion, inconsistency, and regulatory risks if you don’t keep what’s required by patient age range. (That’s where experts like Nordic can help, by the way.)
Ensure strong executive sponsorship
Every project needs a champion. But leaders can’t lead if their roles aren’t defined. Often, people may be unaware that decision-making is expected of them at all.
That’s why it’s critical to establish responsibilities upfront. This not only gets teams on the same page, it also reduces redundancies and friction. When tasks get delegated more directly, decision-makers can perform due diligence with their respective peers to ensure bylaw alignment, service consolidation, and other requirements.
While there may be multiple stakeholders, you can and should still aim for standardization: Unify and manage messaging across all teams and centralize processes around issue escalation and troubleshooting. It’s an operational endeavor, after all.
Create a change management plan
In this era of volatility, organizational agility is key. Lean into change management and accept that today’s goals may evolve tomorrow. Ultimately, that starts with people: Be empathetic to their needs during this process—and consider everyone who will be touched by the integration, including end users.
Speaking of people, engage internal communications teams to strategize messaging and tools. Training videos and written materials, delivered in the right time and space, can all work together to drive adoption and success.
Manage revenue cycles and reporting
EHR systems come and go, but business must go on. Think payer contracting, CRM activities, and pricing, for example.
So, during project planning, assess your RCM resilience and readiness. This process ensures health systems can keep their billing processes on track despite operational changes. Efforts might include creating methodologies for charge services review, claim rules, charge capture, and compliance, just as a few examples.
A stress-free approach is a streamlined one
EHR consolidation doesn’t have to be stressful. By approaching these projects with the full picture in mind—and prioritizing people just as much as process, stakeholders can glean all the value of a centralized system. But you don’t have to go at it alone: We’re ready when you are.