EHR Implementation Steps For Your Behavioral Health Practice

EHR Implementation Steps For Your Behavioral Health Practice

Whether transitioning to electronic health records (EHR) for the first time or switching between systems, the implementation itself places significant burdens on a behavioral health practice.

Any transition requires and assessment of goals and objectives, along a change in behavior and workflow for both providers and staff.


Here is a brief overview of the steps your mental health practice will take during an EHR transition:

Assess Your Practice

The assessment phase is the foundation of all of the other implementation steps. It involves examining the current state of your behavioral health practice, your practice needs, and a readiness assessment of your financial, technological and training requirements.

Is your practice actually ready to make such a large change in process? What issues must be tackled before a change can be considered? If it is concluded that the practice is capable of changing its operating procedures without major problems, then the practice may be ready for an EHR implementation.

Plan Your Goals

One of the major advantage of implementing a new EHR is that it provides the opportunity to break free from existing workflow inefficiencies. If done properly, providers and staff will adapt their workflows to take advantage of the EHR productivity advantages.

To do this, specific goals must be defined for every element of the practice. A behavioral health practice has different needs than other types of medical providers. For example, what are the current workflow processes for client intakes and group therapy sessions? How will the EHR change specific procedures and improve efficiency in charting, billing and practice management? What adaptions and changes to the workflow will occur in financial, operational and clinical aspects of the practice – and how will they be handled?

Mapping out transition requirements includes determining the specific tasks and sequence of tasks required, roles of people involved in the plan, how the EHR will impact and improve existing process, along with continuity of care and timing issues.

In addition to creating a project plan, a project transition team may need to be created. Establishing realistic goals and assigning the right people to the team will go a long way to making sure the implementation is successful.

Select Your EHR

Choosing an EHR is a decision that will affect your practice for years to come. It requires a careful evaluation of multiple EHR vendors. Some practices choose an EHR first and adjust their goals to the chosen system. However, most practices develop their goals and use them as the criteria for the EHR, and then finalize their plans after they have made their vendor selection.

Several important question include:

  • Does the EHR platform meet your needs? How easy is the system to use? How does it integrate with other systems, such as practice management, billing systems and public health registries? Is the system server-based or cloud-based? What are the costs?
  • Does the EHR match your specialty? A specialty-specific EHR for ENTs is designed to meet the needs and workflows of psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists. They include built-in forms and templates such as adult clinical assessment, depression and anxiety, psychological evaluation and psychiatric therapy initial evaluation and more.
  • How will the transition be handed? How long will it take to complete? What training is involved? How will data be migrated to the new system? How will patient privacy and security issues be addressed?
  • Is it Meaningful Use certified? Your EHR should be certified for all stages of Meaningful Use, particularly if your practice plans to participate in federal EHR incentive programs.


This is where the process comes together. Vendors provide training and assistance during an EHR implementation, but this training will only work if all of the staff that will use the EHR are involved. Training should not be limited to the time before implementation. After the launch, follow-up and ongoing training will be required to keep up with new features and processes.

Go Live

The ‘go-live’ time refers to when all the planning and preparation is put into place. It is the first day the EHR is used in a patient care setting. Here are some tips to make your go-live launch go smoother:

  • Prepare and plan.Develop a full list of requirements needed to go live, detailing each step of the patient care delivery process. This will help eliminate some of the workflow problems that may occur during the switchover.
  • Conduct testing and rehearsals for each step in the workflow. Ensure that staff are familiar with what they need to do for each step of the patient care, from initial intake all the way through billing.
  • Have disaster recovery procedure in place.Plans should be in place in the case of a major problem, such as hardware or data issues. These contingencies should not only be in place for the go-live date, but also for when the new system is fully rolled out.
  • Plan for more time. When an EHR is first established, providers will still be learning to use the EHR and will need additional time for patient encounters. There will be an initial workflow slowdown while physicians and support staff adjust to the transition.

Post-implementation Follow-up

The final phase involves evaluation of the implementation and the ongoing process of ensuring that the system meets the practice goals and provides effective patient care. Post-implementation results are often different than what was originally planned. Continuous evaluation will help achieve the practice goals and improve workflows, all while leveraging the advantages of the EHR. Workflow processes may need to be reevaluated and additional training may be required.

Establishing a new EHR for your behavioral health practice is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. A successful changeover can only be achieved when there is a commitment to the project from the start and it is carried out to completion.