Transitioning to a new EHR doesn’t have to be overwhelming

By Caroline Watson | February 11, 2022

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Administrative work is a major source of burnout for clinicians. An athenahealth survey revealed that physicians who spend a lot of their time performing tasks outside of direct patient care feel less satisfied in their work — a concerning correlation considering that just 29% of physicians agree that their organization is set up to minimize their administrative burden.

Switching to a more efficient, intuitive EHR is one way to lessen the administrative burden in the long run. But the process of transitioning to a new EHR can also present new challenges. In the same survey, only 30% of physicians who had undergone a technology transition in the previous 24 months said they received excellent EHR training, compared to 45% of physicians who hadn’t recently undergone a transition.

A thorough onboarding process can make the transition to a new system less overwhelming for clinicians and staff. Support shouldn’t end with onboarding, though. Ongoing learning and training enables organizations to maximize the gains of switching to an efficient EHR. Here’s what three athenahealth customers learned from the process of onboarding and training.

An ‘exceptional’ implementation process

When North Country Family Health Center (NCFHC), a federally qualified health center in Northern New York, decided to switch to a new EHR in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team was understandably hesitant about the implementation process. But CEO Joey Marie Horton says that she was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly implementation went — especially during a pandemic.

“The athenahealth implementation process was exceptional,” Horton said. “In terms of the timeframe, we had a detailed project plan with dates, and we knew what was expected of us and who needed to be involved at each step along the way.”

Perhaps most importantly, the NCFHC team felt they were equipped with all the athenaOne knowledge they needed to succeed well before go-live. “What athena did really well was train us to become experts in the system,” Horton said. “A lot of our implementation time was spent teaching the NCFHC team how to use the system and become the subject matter experts. Training occurred well in advance of go-live.”

Onboarding clinicians and staff with ease

Onboarding clinicians and staff is a major component — and potentially, a major challenge — of transitioning to a new EHR. After going through a major technology transition, just 38% of physicians agree that their EHR is easy to use. Tabby Huddleston, chief operating officer and clinical director at Greenhouse Mental Healthcare, a Midwestern provider of mental and behavioral healthcare services, says the onboarding process was surprisingly easy for clinicians and staff alike.

Greenhouse relies on a combination of athenahealth resources and in-house videos created to demonstrate the specialized workflows they want clinicians to use. Resources include O-Help — athenahealth’s online reference guide with step-by-step instructions — and training modules accessed through the online Learning Portal. “Our providers appreciate how easy the onboarding experience was,” Huddleston said. “Now every single clinician says that athenaOne’s functionality is the bee’s knees. They love it. They think it’s a super-efficient use of their time.”

Even after initial implementation, most organizations continue to have onboarding needs as they hire new clinicians and staff. As the point person in charge of training new staff members on the EHR, NCFHC health information management program manager Ann Shepard says the on-demand training modules help new clinicians learn how to use the EHR efficiently. “Having those streamlined, interactive learning modules is very efficient,” Shepard explained. “We have our new hires review those first and then meet with me. The modules are really key and instrumental in helping everyone be efficient in the system.”

Luis Garcia, M.D., chief medical information officer at Family First Health, a federally qualified health center serving communities across South Central Pennsylvania, agrees that it’s not challenging for him to get new clinicians up to speed. He attributes that ease to the intuitive nature of athenaOne. “After about two weeks, a new provider who’s never used athena before — many of whom aren’t very computer literate — they’re up and running,” Garcia explained. “The system itself, the user interface — everything just makes sense. That is one of athena’s greatest strengths.”

Garcia also believes the usability of athenaOne has played a role in improving the organization’s retention rate in recent years. “Having a system that clinicians can quickly adapt to, where they can learn 90% of what they need within their first two weeks, is crucial,” Garcia said.

Opportunities for ongoing support

Industry-wide, there’s tremendous variation in the degree to which clinicians feel trained to use their EHR efficiently: one in five physicians report feeling underwhelmed by their EHR training.

After onboarding with athenahealth, clinicians and staff continue to have access to a range of training and learning opportunities. That includes live and on-demand webinars, self-paced learning in virtual classrooms, sharing knowledge with peers through interactive Success Communities, and of course, dedicated support from their athenahealth customer success manager to help achieve their full potential.

Ongoing training sessions have helped NCFHC clinicians continue to build confidence and efficiency, according to Barb Fargo, clinical operations officer. “We have had a few providers take advantage of the tailored coaching calls, which has helped them gain even more efficiency,” Fargo said. “I think that’s definitely an advantage. And that’s all part of the athena package — it’s not at an additional cost.”

North Country Family Health Center and Family First Health both participate in athenahealth’s Client Advocacy Program. To learn more about the program, please visit North Country Family Health Center and Family First Health were not compensated for participating in this content.