We’re all in a holding pattern, waiting and waiting for HHS to vet the HITECH “meaningful use” guidelines.  No one wants to forage ahead without a compass.  But if you put off your plans any longer, you could miss out on incentive funding this year.  Conversions take time; we’re already in March.

How quickly can you expect to implement an EHR solution?  It’s hard to say.  Some conversions take as little as six months, some as long as two years.  To qualify for 2009 HITECH funding, your system must be up and running by November at the latest.   Mark Seavitt, chairman of the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology, recommended immediate action at the annual AHIMA conference in October- over five months ago.  The clock is ticking!

Can you do anything to speed up the process?   Perhaps.  A lot will depend on the vendor or product you choose, but there are other factors.  Staff readiness and availability, your hardware infrastructure, training resources, how you plan, and what you expect will affect your outcome.   There are at least two keys to success:  assigning talented, dedicated people to the task, and maintaining a positive attitude.  If you’re upbeat about the new system, your enthusiasm will trickle down to your staff; if morale becomes low, the project is doomed. See this invaluable planning guide from the AAFP for more information and advice).   But even if you do everything right- buy the best product, hire brilliant technicians, implement everything seamlessly- your conversion will take many, many months.   Rush the job and you may wind up saddled with an expensive, buggy system no one in your office wants to use.

How likely is it that the EHR product you buy today will meet the guidelines when they’re announced tomorrow?  Extremely likely.  The IT sector has spent decades preparing for the digitization of health records.  They’ve anticipated anything and everything the government could ask for.  Chances are your EHR system will be capable of much more than the minimum required by HITECH.

So why wait?  You know where health records are headed; you want to be in compliance, compatible with other providers and on the cutting edge of the health IT revolution.  Choose an EHR wisely, and choose it soon!

Maria Nicholas
Technical Writer