One of the biggest problems practice owners and provider organizations are running into when implementing EHR systems is unanticipated costs. Learn how and why to budget for this problem by reading on.
First ICD-10, Now This? Getting Your Budget Ready for EHR Implementation
As if the ICD-10 transition was not enough, many practices and providers are being strongly encouraged to also transition to electronic health records (EHRs).
Like ICD-10, EHR implementation promises strong gains in an effort to modernize medicine. For one, the government will provide incentives in the form of increased reimbursements. For another, patient care promises to become more consistent and thorough, particularly when moving from provider to provider.
Regardless of the benefits, the here-and-now of EHR implementation promises to be a challenge. Looking exclusively at the problem of hidden expenses, providers are going to have to budget extra money and time in order to cope with unexpected costs.
Because of the likelihood of this problem, the HealthIT.gov website recommends adding to your budget with emergency provisions and anticipatory funds. How much? Several years ago in 2012, the Modern Medicine Network recommended squirreling away an additional 50 percent on top of your current expected EHR implementation budget.
That number may not be precise, but providers are going to have to set aside quite a large chunk of change in order to meet budget bloat head on. Here are just some of the things they will need to account for:
EHR software needs something to run on, and your organization’s current systems and hardware may not be up to snuff. At the very least, you are likely to invest in a few extra workstations and an increase to your networking capabilities, including an internet bandwidth upgrade.
For many providers, a full-scale replacement of computing systems may be in order. That means new, faster computers and a full suite of networking and application hosting servers, as well as all the wiring and installation costs that come with it.
All said and done, some providers are going to be saddled with a huge bill before they can even run their Best EHR Software. Plenty of others are lucky enough to get away with minimal hardware upgrades, but you have no way of knowing which category you fall into until your software is finally running as it should be.
Estimated added baseline cost: $5,900 on average
IT Staff and Outside Support
Most vendor service contracts include some amount of system support and troubleshooting, especially during the initial installation phase. Even with this help, your organization is likely to need some IT support of their own once the training wheels are removed.
Also consider that some support services are not provided by vendors, or that the support may not be available at all hours. These factors in addition to the inevitable IT staffing upgrade that will occur during full EHR implementation can increase providers’ tech payrolls into the foreseeable future.
Estimated added baseline cost: $3,094 on average
Training the entire staff will be necessary, with separate training goals based on their role within the EHR system. Physicians alone needed two weeks of training before they were able to satisfy the Meaningful Use requirements, according to one study.
On top of that, front-house staff will need to know how to use EHR systems for things like billing and patient registration. You will also need an IT department with many staff members who know the EHR system backwards and forwards. All of these training hours add to lost productivity and overtime wages, the single-most anticipated expense when it comes to labor.
Decreased Patient Loads and Increased Staffing Needs
Every moment spent troubleshooting or learning the EHR system is a moment taken away from patient care. Once implementation is complete, these bumps are expected to smooth out, but full EHR implementation for some organizations could take one to two years.
To make up for the lost productivity, new staff may be needed just to handle the leftover administrative and patient-end responsibilities. The combination in decreased patient loads and increased labor costs is predicted to be the most variable and unpredictable for providers implementing EHR.
With more sensitive patient data traveling through their networks, providers are going to have to invest in robust network security solutions and IT expertise so that all that data will be protected. Anyone who fails to do so and who could be found negligent could potentially face HIPAA violation fines.
Conclusion: Form a Contingency Plan, Allocate Extra Budgets, Prepare for the Worst
The purpose of outlining all of these potential costs is not to deepen your despair. Instead, you should take this information to heart and plan positively and proactively by preparing a contingency plan.
Set aside extra budgetary funds that provide for a significant cushion when unexpected costs arise. If you feel like you cannot come up with such a budget, request help from your local Regional Extension Center (REC), which is designed to provide advisory knowledge and support for EHR implementers.
Finally, develop a strategic plan that accounts for setbacks like lost productivity for two or more years into the future. Keep in mind that you may need to upgrade your systems by that point as well.
With all these elements in place, your provider organization should have a substantial safety net to prevent you from falling on your face should you stumble. Remember that everything should get smoother as adoption increases and systems are refined. Many providers and government organizations even expect for EHRs to provide some ROI in the not-too-distant-future. So spend now and be grateful later that you did.