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7 key steps to maintaining the health of your IT systems
Failing to carry out important tasks could shorten the life of your EHR.
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Key tasks for maintaining the health of IT systems
The vast majority of provider organizations have implemented electronic health record systems and ingrained the use of clinical systems in daily workflows. As a result, it is critically important for healthcare organizations to be monitoring the health of their EHR systems. Hayes Management Consulting offers seven tips to ensure clinical systems are always up and running.
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1. Create task checklists
After a system has been in operation for a while, it’s sometimes easy to neglect routine maintenance tasks. Other priorities pop up, and issues that are not deemed crucial at the time fall to the bottom of the list and can often stay there. Although some maintenance tasks may seem mundane, failing to carry them out on a regular basis can lead to more serious system issues. Examples include medication list updates; and adding and editing information for providers, or deleting access for staff who have left the organization;

HIT staff should create weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and annual task lists outlining what needs to be done and then making sure that they are scheduled into the regular workload. Also, establish a checklist for day-to-day security tasks that should be carried out to protect the integrity of your system.
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2. Assign responsibilities
Creating lists is a good start, but that strategy will be effective only if HIT executives assign specific individuals who are responsible and accountable for carrying out each task. Organizations that have been the most successful in properly maintaining their IT infrastructure have established specific individuals or groups that monitor system management. Organizations that lack the resources for such in-house oversight often engage a third-party partner to come in and help monitor system management.

HIT leaders should establish a feedback loop to ensure tasks have been identified are being performed. This can be in the form of reports to executives or regular review meetings, which can be scheduled quarterly, semi-annually or annually depending on the level of change going on in the organization. Another effective way to ensure ongoing task accountability is to set up a regular schedule of standing meetings.
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3. Upgrade promptly
Software vendors are always tweaking their products to either improve the feature set or correct bugs they’ve discovered. It’s tempting to put off installing patches or upgrades because it is often an interruption to the staff’s daily tasks. Failing to promptly act to install these upgrades, however, is a serious mistake.

These upgrades can improve the stability of the application, or enhance functionality to increase efficiency. Even more importantly, they can protect you from possible security breaches. Often, hackers search for outdated software looking for security issues that haven’t been fixed with patches. To ensure proper maintenance of an organization’s systems, establish a process to install upgrades and patches within a certain, specified period following receipt.
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4. Keep documentation current
Maintaining up-to-date system documentation is essential.  It’s critical to capture all information related to your applications and establish an official repository to which staff can refer. A centralized documentation center enables new staff members to understand and follow processes and decisions.

A documentation plan should include a master user’s guide that includes checklists and all standard operating procedures that have been established. These should be laid out in a step-by-step format with screen shots to illustrate exactly what needs to be done. User guides and other documentation should be reviewed regularly for updates and changes.

Documentation should include any design decisions that have been made, long-term plans and a change control policy that ensures that all changes are tracked and communicated properly.
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5. Conduct ongoing training
Lack of training can be a serious obstacle to system health—staff often forget knowledge acquired during the initial training period. This can lead to new staff members being instructed by peers who pass on tribal knowledge and shortcuts that may not be appropriate for proper system management.

Organizations should consider implementing a comprehensive training program for new hires and refresher sessions for existing staff to ensure that everyone uses the same processes and procedures.
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6. Communicate regularly
It’s important to keep everyone informed about the status of systems. Some organizations have internal web sites for updates on immediate problems or to announce planned changes involving systems. A proactive approach includes emails or newsletter notifications distributed throughout the organization.

Also, organizations should communicate aggressively when it comes to process, procedure and form changes. When in electronic format, include a link that users can click on to learn more about the change, why it was made and how to fill out the new form. Proactively getting out front eliminates confusion and concern surrounding these changes.
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7. Get Help
Performing all the necessary tasks to maintain an efficient system can sometimes be difficult, especially when trying to do it with constrained internal resources. Time demands on healthcare professionals continue to grow and finding time for additional responsibilities is difficult. That’s why many organizations will engage a third party to help.

An experienced partner can bring a vast wealth of industry experience from their other engagements and can simplify the process of system management. They can help with all elements of a comprehensive program including assessment, plan development, system monitoring, staff training and ongoing audits.