What Physicians Need to Know about Work Flow Analysis Before Selecting and Implementing an Ambulatory EMR
Work flow analysis is valuable when selecting and implementing an ambulatory electronic medical record (EMR). The results of this analysis will help the physician identify which EMR products are best suited to meet their expectations. Physicians should have an understanding of the effort involved and prepare their practice for this important assessment.
Work flow analysis is hard work and takes a lot of time. With time pressures on physicians to see patients and a payment system that rewards them more for higher numbers of patient visits than for higher quality of care, many physicians find it difficult to carve out enough time in their day for efforts like this. As a result, work flow analysis is often not performed or is less than comprehensive during an ambulatory EMR selection and implementation.
Physicians essentially have two options to obtain a work flow analysis:
- Hire a consultant
- Perform the work flow analysis themselves
Hiring an IT consultant who is experienced with work flow analysis at the beginning of the EMR selection process is a more expensive option but will likely result in a more comprehensive analysis. The consultant will interview key physicians and staff, create work flow descriptions and maps, analyze the results, review them with the practice and develop recommendations. The physicians and staff will spend time with the consultant during this process, but most of the time and effort necessary for the documentation and assessment will be done by the consultant.
Alternatively, physicians may decide to perform work flow analysis on their own. If so, there are a variety of methods and tools available to assist the effort. These include:
- AHRQ’s Health IT Tool Box website
- DOQ-IT Operational Redesign Workbook
- PITO Physician Information Technology Office Needs Assessment
These tools will guide the physician through the documentation of current work flows, an analysis of them and then considerations of redesigned future work flows. The initial tedious steps to document current work flows are to:
- Collect all paper forms used in practice
- Select a workflow guide to facilitate analysis (i.e. one of the three listed above)
- Identify major processes to map out (key processes vs. all processes)
- Gather information on each process by interviewing people involved in each process
- Write detailed descriptions of each process
- Create detailed work flow maps (at least for the major processes)
Collecting paper forms will help identify specific paper-based processes that are unique to the practice. The purposes of paper-based processes are important to understand and account for when future work flows are redesigned. If the new technology tools and work flows do not account for the purpose of a paper-based work flow, and that purpose remains pertinent, then a work-around will need to be discussed and designed. The goal should be to convert all paper processes to electronic ones, but the limits of technology or the costs involved will limit the ability to fully achieve this.
A work flow analysis guide will help the practice identify other key work flow processes that are generally known to be important for physician practices to assess when selecting and implementing an EMR. As shown in the snapshot below of part of the DOQ-IT Workbook, these guides will lead the practice through questions to ask about each process:
After interviews with people involved in the process are completed, a description for each process is documented and then used to synthesize current work flow maps. A work flow map serves as a visual representation of the described workflow. As described in a previous blog, these maps are useful when analyzing current work flow and redesigning them into future work flows. My next blog will describe how the results of work flow analysis will facilitate the selection of an EMR that meets the needs of the physician office.