Healthcare News & Insights

Keys to working through an EHR learning curve

Wait times for patients are long enough in the ER. You don’t want to do anything to keep them any longer than necessary. But that’s what happened at one hospital because of its new electronic health records (EHR) system.

After Columbus Regional Hospital in Indiana switched over to an EHR system for its patients, the average time for a patient’s length of stay skyrocketed for its emergency department.

Before implementing the system, stays for the hospital’s “Fast Track” patients, those who came into the ER with less severe problems, averaged two hours and 25 minutes. Patients with more serious conditions were in the ER for an average of two hours and 32 minutes.

During the first week that hospital staff used the EHR system to record patients’ data, stay times jumped to four hours and 41 minutes for Fast Track patients, and four hours and 13 minutes for patients needing more acute care.

Eventually, Columbus Regional got its lengths of stay down to more reasonable numbers:  two hours and 39 minutes for Fast Track patients, and three hours and 10 minutes for acute care patients.

The hospital decided to address the problem by:

  • Scheduling extra staff.  The hospital put more nurses to work in the ER to serve more patients as staff adjusted to the system. Gradually, the hospital reduced its staffing levels, but still plans to adjust them until the length of stay returns to its previous time.


  • Informing patients. To reduce patient complaints about longer waits, the hospital gave each patient a handout explaining the system switch. It also posted information about the new system on digital screens located throughout the hospital.


  • Tweaking the system.  Doctors and nurses are examining the EHR system to identify any issues within the program that contribute to inefficiency so they can nip them in the bud.

If your hospital is in the process of implementing an EHR of its own, you can avoid a lot of headaches by making sure you train your staff on using the system beforehand. Staffers should be comfortable with entering patient info in the system before it goes live.

It may take several training sessions before they reach that level of familiarity with your new EHR. If possible, let them have several practice runs with the system to increase their comfort level.

A few extra hours of training now may save countless hours later by improving your hospital’s patient flow and making the transition to electronic records more seamless. It’s the most effective way to head off problems before they start.

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