A new EHR system requires a big investment in software. But the implementation will likely cost an organization a lot more than what is spent on the system itself. 

As organizations must do with any big tech project, healthcare providers need to get an accurate picture of the potential ROI when installing a new electronic health record (EHR) system.

Installing an EHR system has many benefits for providers. That includes both tangible effects, such as government incentive payments for EHR adoption and increases in efficiency, as well as benefits that are more difficult to measure, such as higher patient satisfaction and a competitive advantage over other providers.

But an EHR implementation, whether the provider is upgrading to a new system or installing an EHR for the first time, can also come with many costs that the organization didn’t plan for. To accurately predict the project’s ROI and properly allocate a budget, organizations must prepare for those additional items.

Here are five hidden costs of EHRs that providers should watch out for:

1. Hardware and other IT investments

When moving to EHRs for the first time, providers usually need to make significant investments in tech equipment. That includes servers to hold the software and store the EHR data, as well as computer workstations for doctors.

But those probably aren’t the only IT investments the provider will need to make. Organizations may need to upgrade their networks to make sure doctors can access EHR data at all times with no downtime or performance hiccups. If the provider is using a cloud-based EHR hosted by the vendor, it may also need to upgrade its Internet bandwidth so data can be transferred back and forth.

2. Security tools

When providers begin holding patients’ protected health information electronically, they may need to invest in new security systems to make sure they’re adequately protecting data and are in compliance with HIPAA regulations. That could include tools for encryption, network monitoring and firewalls, as well as staff security training and tools to boost physical security to prevent thefts of computer equipment.

3. EHR training

In addition to being trained on security best practices, doctors, nurses and other staff will need to be thoroughly trained to use the new EHR system. After all, the organization can’t get the most out of its IT investment if people don’t know how to use the technology.

Depending on people’s familiarity with the system, that training could take several days or even weeks. According to one study, doctors who received two weeks or more of EHR training were more likely to use several EHR functions necessary to meet Meaningful Use requirements compared to those who received less training.

In addition to the initial training when a system is installed, organizations must also take into account the costs of training new doctors, nurses and employees that will be brought into the organization in the future.

4. Lost productivity and temporary staffing increases

Switching to EHRs from paper records is a very big change, and even with the right amount of training, it will take time before people are used to the new workflow and start working more efficiently. In fact, efficiency could drop significantly at first and there may be a temporary need to increase staffing levels until people get used to the new system.

5. Customization and future upgrades

Many providers find that they’re able to purchase EHR software and use it right out of the box. But other times, the organization needs to customize a system. That will cost extra, either because the provider must pay the software vendor, or have IT staff or contractors make the changes.

Also, when organizations make the switch to EHRs, they also must consider their upgrade cycle for the future. That includes both hardware and software — the provider may want to upgrade to newer software in the future, and hardware doesn’t have an unlimited shelf life and will need to be replaced at some point.

Providers may run into other costs as well. Because of these unplanned costs, EHR projects can easily run over budget and in the worst cases, that can mean the implementation will fail before it’s completed. That’s why organizations must diligently plan for all foreseeable costs — and be prepared to deal with some they didn’t expect.

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