March 17, 2016 Ask Owen

4 Steps for Ensuring a Successful EHR Optimization Project

With EHR adoption widespread across the healthcare industry, providers are now looking for opportunities for EHR optimization to make up for inefficiencies and other problems ailing their technology use.


However, EHR optimization projects take a lot of time, effort, and planning in order to execute properly. Prior to beginning a project, healthcare professionals need to take a look at their EHR systems and understand fully the problems that they are dealing with, and then create an action plan in order to make their optimization project effective.

Below are some of the best practices for executing an EHR optimization project:

Assess pre-existing systems

EHR optimization projects are foremost used to improve the functionality of an EHR system that is already in place. In order to make the optimization project effective, technology experts will need to take a look at how the systems are already working.

Assessment can take numerous forms. EHR optimization project leaders can take the time to see where users are struggling with the technology, can look for inefficiencies, and assess small usability changes that could improve workflow.

These assessments should also examine how users are interacting with the EHR. While users presumably learned the bare basics of how to use the technology when it was first implemented, there are surely new things they can still learn to make use easier and more efficient.

As Emory Healthcare CMIO Julie Hollberg, MD, said in a past interview with, EHRs can provide a great framework in which providers can practice, but it’s their understanding of that framework and ability to use it that makes all of the difference.

“The technology like many things does amazing things, but it’s just a tool. You have to learn how to use it just like everything else. We have coupled this with required training so that people have a skeleton from which to hang new knowledge from the coaches when they are in clinic,” Hollberg explained.

By taking a look at these problems, project leaders can determine where they are going to improve the system, and where they are going to improve the system users.

Make an action plan

Following assessment, EHR optimization project leaders can determine an action plan. This is a critical aspect of any sort of project, but especially with one that handles such sensitive technology critical to physician workflow.

There are several aspects of an EHR that optimization projects can help enhance, including point of care charting, computerized physician order entry (CPOE), clinical decision support, and the electronic medical administrative record. According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), part of the EHR optimization action plan is determining which of these factors the project will tackle.

Prior to defining each aspect of the action plan, providers need to ask themselves if this is a crucial part of their EHR optimization project. If it is not, they need to focus their energies elsewhere.

Assemble an EHR optimization project team

No healthcare IT expert can go at an EHR optimization project alone. Instead, she will need to construct a team that can carry out various steps in the optimization process.

According to Tanya Edwards, MD, MMM, physician executive at Impact Advisors, the EHR optimization team needs to be composed of individuals who perform various different functions within the healthcare organization to ensure that the project is beneficial for all organization members.

“It is a multi-disciplinary team that needs to be operationally-led because it is the people doing the work who understand the work,” she told “They understand why things need to be done in a certain order. They understand what the barriers are. Once those workflows are developed, then it’s up to IT to come in and try to support that.”

Foster user buy-in

No EHR project will be successful without the support and buy-in of a healthcare organization’s providers and other end users. Because of this, the EHR optimization team needs to make sure they foster user buy-in.

A considerable part of this is by making sure to include them in the assessment process discussed at the top of this article. If they know that their clinical workflows will be improved through this project, end users are far more likely to actively participate.

Another important aspect of this is gathering feedback along the way. If a certain goal within the EHR optimization project is not meeting the expectations of the end users or causing them more of a headache, that goal needs to be reassessed and revised for usability.

Fortunately, the time is ripe for EHR optimization projects. After a 2015 filled with various clinical changes like the ICD-10 implementation, as well as long awaited announcements regarding the EHR Incentive Programs, providers are finally seeing a break in federal requirements. This break is an excellent opportunity for healthcare organizations to embark upon a new EHR optimization project.

“Obviously, we now need to be compliant with Stage 3 Meaningful Use. We have gone through all of ICD-10 and it really wasn’t as much of an event as many feared it would be or at least not for most health systems,” Edwards said. “It seems like we may have an opportunity in the next year to have a breather, be able to focus a little bit more on being able to optimize these systems, and really try to get the value out of the millions and millions of dollars that we have put in.”

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