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Tips for Saving a Failed EMR Project

The Doctor's Office, April 10, 2008

Practices aren’t always successful with electronic medical record (EMR) implementation. Some have even abandoned attempts to implement an EMR system, reverting back to the old way of doing things—a waste of valuable time and money.

The reason projects fail is often not about the software but about practices not wanting to change, says Susan Ordway, senior director of HIT services and manager of the Quality Information Technology program at Masspro. Project failure may be caused by:

  • A resistance to change (e.g., no operational design)
  • A lack of preparation (e.g., budget, communication plan, appropriate resources)
  • Selecting the wrong partner

To get a failed project back on track, first determine the reason for the project’s collapse. Before recommitting to your implementation, make sure your practice is equipped with the right tools. Start by creating an assessment form that includes questions about what you want to accomplish this time, Ordway says.

During the assessment phase, Ordway suggests groups draft a project that includes their renewed strategic vision, goals, and objectives. Also, take a closer look at your practice from an operational standpoint.

“Do you have regular meetings, and is there a definite leader responsible for these tasks?” Ordway says. “What are the practice’s initiatives, and does your practice have enough time to focus on saving the EMR project based on these initiatives? Do you have any standard documented policies and procedures in place?”

EMR projects often fail due to a lack of leadership. If you didn’t previously have a champion for your implementation, get one. If your former leader isn’t up to the task, make it a priority to find the right person to motivate and lead your team. “This person needs to be someone who can lead through change and be a part of the project beyond the go-live phase,” she says.

But an implementation is far from a one-person job. Make sure you have a dedicated implementation team that includes both clinical and executive leadership, Ordway says. “It’s not just the business manager; there needs to be physicians discussing this too. You also need people that are not so much [technically] educated, but folks who want to spend extra time on this project and are open-minded to other people’s input,” she says.

Finally, make sure your group is culturally ready for change. “There are practices that say we’ve been doing the same things for 20 years and there is no need to go paperless,” Ordway says. Your leader needs to help the group do away with this attitude before you proceed.


Shannon Sousa is the editor of The Doctor's Office. She may be reached at Ssousa@hcpro.com. This story was adapted from one that first appeared in the March edition of The Doctor’s Office, a publication by HealthLeaders Media.