Five steps you can take right now to prepare for quarterly EHR upgrades

When it’s all said and done, transitioning to the Epic quarterly upgrade model should help make projects more manageable, consistent, repeatable, and routine for your healthcare organization. With the switch to this 8-12-week update package, you’ll see new features coming at a faster rate, but with more predictability and at a scale that matches the new quarterly model.

Getting to this point, however, can present a few challenges. It will require extra effort in building out your communication and training plans as well as additional meetings between your operations and IT teams. With so many variables to address in your upgrade strategy, you may be wondering where to begin.

During our recent webinar, How to Successfully Transition to the Epic Quarterly Upgrade Model, two Nordic senior consultants, Pete Wiley and Austin Hundley, walked attendees through some of the main challenges they can anticipate with quarterly upgrades. They shared their advice on how to plan for these changes and steps you can take to get started.

In case you missed this presentation or need a refresher on where to begin, here are five steps that Pete and Austin suggest you can take right now to help inform your organization’s quarterly upgrade strategy. If you’d like to hear more from Pete and Austin, you can view the full webinar recording below.


1. Communicate the change

It sounds simple. But as Pete and Austin pointed out, this is a critical step that often gets overlooked. Many of your staff members come to work and are focused on doing their jobs. That often means they don’t have extra time in the day to look at online resources that describe what’s changing with upgrades. In addition, if your organization didn’t have the opportunity to attend the yearly user group conference, you might not be aware of what’s changing.

So, step one, if you haven’t done this already, is to communicate the changes to your staff. Let them know what’s changing and how it’s going to impact their daily workflows.  

2. Strategize on your upgrade timeline model

Pete and Austin believe that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to developing your upgrade timeline. If your organization is early in its 2018 upgrade process, it may be OK to go ahead and add on one or more quarterly packages. If you’re early in release note review, your teams can likely absorb the increase in work stemming from the quarterly upgrades. As far as stakeholders are concerned, simply present this add-on as the next upgrade.

However, they caution that if you’re too far into your 2018 upgrades, you may want to hold off on adding on the next series of upgrades. For instance, if you’ve already started testing and you add to the scope afterward, you’ll invalidate your tests. Then you’ll need to redo your tests, which can significantly alter your timelines. This, in turn, can make life more difficult for your project analysts. They’ll need to reconfigure plans to address the recent additions.

In all, Pete and Austin suggest evaluating where you’re at with your current upgrade and developing your quarterly upgrade timeline from there.

3. Anticipate resource needs for enhancement-heavy applications

Another nuance of the quarterly upgrade model that Pete and Austin pointed out is its agile-type approach. In this model, release dates are committed in advance, but there may be some changes to scope of certain features, or which features are included in a given release. That’s where it becomes important to regularly check for updates in Epic, especially when it comes to applications that will take more team resources. And you can start by selecting the changes you want to make rather than just choosing from what’s available.

4. Examine your training and ongoing learning program

For training with major version upgrades, you may have developed and then re-worked a training program for upgrade-specific changes. That approach could have worked well, because you had time between major version upgrades to apply the necessary resources to develop these training materials.  

As you move to quarterly upgrades, though, you’ll be losing a lot of efficiency and continuity if your training team is continuously tasked with re-working their materials. Instead, Pete and Austin recommend having an ongoing learning program. This type of program will enable your team to adapt to the faster pace of change.

5. Rethink forums and frequency for operational feedback

One challenge that may be top of mind at your organization is how to get your operations teams on board with this change. The method you may have used previously may not work anymore. For example, in the past, when release notes went out, your analysts most likely reviewed the updates and then provided their recommendations on the optional features to select. These recommendations were taken to the operations team and they would go about their implementations based on that feedback. This process of gathering buy-in from the operations team could have happened just once or twice a release.

With quarterly upgrades, Pete and Austin recommend exposing your operations team to the changes early on and letting them know you’re going to need their time more often. This won’t necessarily translate into taking up more of their time, however. They likened this scenario to contributing to an IRA or retirement account by using dollar-cost averaging. When you throw smaller dollar amounts into your retirement account each time, it’s a better investment in the long run. The same could be said for the time you spend with your operations team. Pete and Austin recommend starting to make your sessions more frequent for better results in the future.

If you have additional questions or would like to discuss your upgrade strategy with us, please schedule an appointment. Our upgrade experts can help guide you through this transition, and our Managed Services team can provide support on a variety of upgrade-related projects, from project management to solution-specific tasks – whether testing or release note review.


Topics: Epic upgrades

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