So you’ve checked out a bunch of EHRs, created a shortlist of contenders and decided which one to buy. You’re prepared to pay what the EHR vendor asks, so you’re all set now… right? Well, no. Unfortunately, implementing an EHR comes with its own set of costs, and if you don’t prepare for them, the installation won’t go well.
To fully evaluate your EHR implementation costs, you need to prepare for both the direct and indirect expenses involved. There’s no point in spending a bunch of money on a new EHR if you can’t make it work for your organization.
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Direct EHR Implementation Costs
Your expenses will vary depending on which software licensing model you choose, but regardless of which approach you take, you may face another major investment.
One approach to buying EHR software is to purchase a perpetual license. If you buy a perpetual license, you host the EHR software on your company’s servers. Another commonly chosen option is accessing your software online and paying an ongoing subscription fee.
If you choose the perpetual license, you’ll have to manage all of the back-office technology involved in running the EHR software, including heavy-duty servers, some form of data backup, data storage and possibly other technologies as well.
Meanwhile, if you choose to access your software online, you may pay an initial startup fee to get started, in addition to monthly subscription payments.
Of course, given that the vendor handles the hosting, you won’t need to lay out money for extra servers, storage, data backups, security and the like, but you may be limited by how many of your employees can access the software. In some cases, if the number of users grows, you have to pay a higher monthly fee.
Indirect EHR Implementation Costs
Practices also face some indirect EHR implementation costs, and they’re far from trivial. Budgeting for these investments is critical, as they represent a significant share of the overall EHR implementation budget.
For example, you have to include training as an item in your EHR implementation budget. Training can be expensive, but if you don’t budget for it, you’ll pay more over the long run as practices struggle to keep up with their duties. While you can go with lower-cost training for particularly tech-friendly employees, don’t skimp on more intensive training for those who need it.
In addition, bear in mind that for a little while following an EHR implementation, your physicians will be less productive than they had been in the past. Regardless of how you manage things, it’ll take your physicians a while to get back to their former level of productivity.
To make such projections, many practices assume that each physician will see one fewer patient per day for as much as six months after the EHR implementation. Given the extent to which practice productivity varies, it makes sense to prepare a best- and worst-case scenario and calculate the financial impact of each scenario.
Staffing-Related EHR Implementation Costs
Yet another consideration is the extent to which you’ll need to shift IT staff after the EHR goes live. Even if your practice has relatively minor IT needs, consider whether you’ll need extra IT expertise to support the implementation process.
Almost every medical practice has to keep some IT tools (such as practice management software or email servers) available around the clock, and supporting these systems takes effort. If you suspect that your IT team is overloaded already, budget for a temporary IT worker or consultant to keep the new EHR running properly.
What’s more, bear in mind that you don’t want to overstress your employees and blow the chance to make them comfortable with the new EHR. If you intend on keeping the patient volume at the same level as before, you may need to add a locum tenens physician or other clinician to the mix for a little while.
Finally, it’s important to note that you may face unique EHR cost issues that aren’t listed here. The point is not to adhere religiously to a single set of standards, but rather to understand what issues you face and assess your situation accordingly.
Nobody can predict every cost they might incur during an EHR implementation. But if you keep these principles in mind, you’re far less likely to be taken by surprise after the EHR purchase is complete.