Millions of bits of data flood the electronic health record (EHR) space, and that number will inevitably rise. Every provider-patient interaction produces new data within the EHR. How well this data is managed determines how well end users can access data pertinent to a patient’s treatment
Integrating an EHR with various systems and solutions is necessary, but how much is too much? Many questions surround how to approach EHR integration, and this article will bring clarity to common dilemmas.
How Are Health Records Managed?
Smaller to midsize practices often integrate EHRs to facilitate patient care, verify insurance, and close care gaps. However, larger organizations leverage data for business decisions, research, clinical trials, and population health management. So, while larger organizations require lots of data to manage operations, the same amount of data fed into a smaller organization’s EHR would be too much to handle.
What is EHR Integration and How is it Relevant?
In simple terms, EHR integration is the process of connecting electronic health systems with other healthcare software applications. Integrated systems are effective in streamlining workflows within a medical practice.
Perhaps the most significant result of integration is how ready access to patient data assists practitioners in delivering the best care possible for the patient. However, integration must be throttled so that too many integrations don’t result in data overload for providers and their staff. The recipe for success is knowing which systems to integrate into the EHR and having each serve a specific purpose.
Having covered the basics of EHR integration and its importance, you are now prepared to learn the benefits and challenges of integrating data into the EHR.
The Consequences of Poor EHR Data Integration
A lack of systems integration can have various signs and symptoms that affect the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare operations. Here are some common indicators of EHR integration issues:
- Duplicate data entry
- Frequent switching between applications in workflows
- Delays in communication between providers
- Insufficient provider access to patient information
- Hits to revenue from billing errors, claim denials, and delayed reimbursements
- Data silos affecting care quality
- Missteps in medication management
- Inaccurate reporting
- Not meeting standards for compliance
- Low patient engagement
- Lack of critical analyses
- Slow system performance
- The constant need for IT support and maintenance
After EHR implementation, many challenges tend to arise. Healthcare organizations often prioritize EHR systems with robust integration capabilities to address these challenges, facilitating consistent data sharing and improved healthcare delivery.
Benefits of Properly Integrated EHR Systems
Properly integrated EHR systems offer numerous benefits, including improved patient care, reduced errors, increased efficiency, and enhanced collaboration among healthcare providers. By ensuring comprehensive integration from all aspects, your organization can achieve the following:
- Improve patient care with accurate, complete, and timely health information
- Reduce medical errors, lessen duplication of services, and aid care coordination
- Enhance data sharing and interoperability across healthcare organizations and systems
- Improve communication, collaboration, and decision-making among professionals
- Support public health, research, and quality improvement efforts
- Enhance workflows and efficiency for healthcare providers and staff
- Automate administrative tasks, such as scheduling, billing, coding, and reporting
- Provide clinical support tools like alerts, reminders, and decision support for safer and higher-quality care
Common Challenges Faced with EHR Integration
Because EHRs are known not to work well “out of the box,” end users encounter many hurdles to getting full utilization and integration. If you have experienced any of the following situations after EHR implementation, you are not alone:
- Technical complexity – Compatibility issues and data mapping.
- Administrative hurdles– Hurdles from coordinating workflows and securing staff support.
- Privacy and security – Privacy and security concerns, some associated with Business Associate Agreements (BAAs).
- Data standardization – Variations in data standards across EHR systems.
- Resource constraints– Significant demands on financial and IT resource allocation.
- Legacy system compatibility – Older systems may not easily integrate with modern EHR technology, necessitating costly retrofitting or replacement.
- End-user adoption – There is not enough training or support that is essential for healthcare professionals to use integrated EHRs successfully.
- Data migration complexity – Migrating historical data from paper records or older systems requires attention to data accuracy and integrity.
- Regulatory compliance – Ensuring compliance with healthcare regulations like HIPAA adds complexity to integration.
- Vendor lock-in – Some EHR vendors may resist third-party integration, potentially causing vendor lock-in.
- Data ownership and governance – Clear policies and agreements are crucial for addressing shared EHR ecosystems’ data ownership and governance challenges.
Addressing these issues is critical in achieving a seamless and secure exchange of healthcare data and EHR interoperability, ultimately improving patient care and health system efficiency. Organizations must proactively navigate each obstacle to unlock the full potential of integrated EHRs.
Tips and Best Practices for a Well-Integrated EHR
The first step in making integrating healthcare successful is carefully plotting a plan. Gather your teams and stakeholders together to create an integration “wish list” and encourage them to share ideas for solutions. This is also an opportune time to enlist the help of outside advisors who can match your integration deficiencies with the appropriate solutions. Other areas of EHR integration planning include:
- Assess current systems, including a gap analysis to define EHR integration goals and requirements, and create a list of what tools are needed to carry out integrations
- Choose an experienced EHR consulting partner with technical expertise and regulatory acumen
Perform fine-tuning tasks such as mapping data elements, configuring interfaces, testing functionality, and performance, and resolving any issues or errors
- Monitor and evaluate post-integration performance, collect feedback, and make improvements whenever feasible
- Analyze workflow efficiency and define integration objectives
- Review your contract and allocate budget for integration, including hardware, software, and support
- Recruit support channels, especially for technical aspects of integrations
- Evaluate and optimize outcomes using data analytics and quality improvement measures
Summary: EHR Integration Essentials
Proper EHR integration is vital for effective healthcare operations. A fragmented EHR can pose various challenges and negatively impact the efficiency of healthcare services. Recognizing these signs early on can help organizations address potential problems, enabling them to harness the full potential of EHR systems. By following best practices in EHR integration, healthcare providers can enhance their performance and ultimately deliver better patient care.
If your EHR lacks corrective enhancements, you may be missing out on the benefits of an integrated EHR:
- Care quality potential supported by accurate, comprehensive, and timely health information
- Reduction of medical errors and duplication of services
- Efficient care coordination
- Enhanced data sharing and interoperability within the network
- Public health, research, and quality improvement opportunities
- Streamlined workflows and efficiency for healthcare providers and staff
- Critical automation for administrative tasks, such as scheduling, billing, coding, and reporting
- Beneficial clinical support tools like alerts, reminders, and decision support for safer and higher-quality care
Make This Your Year for Checking EHR Integration Off Your To-Do List
Healthcare leaders sometimes doubt if they chose the best EHR for their organization. When comparing the prospect of changing EHRs to fixing the one you currently work with, the latter is almost always more cost-effective. Our team of consultants makes hundreds of EHR enhancements year after year and knows what solutions sync with common EHR problems. Reach out today to begin a success plan for your EHR integrations.