Most health care leaders know implementing a new electronic health record (EHR) is a challenging time and requires close attention to detail. So it’s safe to say many would not choose to implement a new EHR during a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, especially without the help of EHR vendor associates on-site. However, leaders at Macon Community Hospital (MCH) in Lafayette, Tennessee, had little choice, as their previous vendor contract ended during the pandemic.
“About two to three weeks before the pandemic hit, travel bans started going into effect,” said Scott Tongate, chief financial officer. “We were told we could postpone the go live or try a virtual go live. We have an experienced IT team here, so we felt comfortable with the virtual option.”
A regular on-site go live is a large undertaking. Normally, go lives involve months of collaborative preparation followed by teams of Cerner associates on-site helping hospital operations run as smoothly as possible as they flip the switch. But this was the first time Cerner performed a virtual EHR go live. MCH took extra measures to help support this unique conversion.
To prepare, teams from MCH and Cerner worked together to plan how to successfully navigate the virtual conversion, including abundant communication and evening support for inpatient, emergency, laboratory, radiology and IT departments. The extra support helped with troubleshooting, workflow issues and discussions about integration. A daily charge huddle helped keep the teams aligned with the CFO speaking with the departments to ensure they were on the right track for the go live.
On March 30, 2020, the MCH IT staff worked with remote Cerner associates to successfully convert the hospital to Cerner Millennium®, using the Cerner hosted CommunityWorks℠ delivery model. Despite the lack of in-person support staff, the conversion went well without any major problems.
“The phone lines were open all day,” said Tongate. “We had as many resources available as we would have had with an in-person go live. It went well.”
CEO Thomas Kidd echoed Tongate’s sentiments, praising his team for their hard work and supporting the smooth transition. “There was a lot of preparation and communication between our team and Cerner. We had conducted the testing and training before the pandemic hit. With those out of the way, I felt like it was a simple go live. Our team, as always, stepped up to the plate and did everything they needed to do, and had it completed on time. It’s a credit to our team and their proactive groundwork.”
Despite the timing of the pandemic, some aspects may have helped ease the transition. In anticipation of a potential COVID-19 surge, patient volume fell, which in turn helped ease the new EHR transition, giving end-users the time needed to better acclimate to the new EHR.
“Compared to before the pandemic, our volumes were about half to a third the size, depending on the care area,” said Tongate. “I think that helped allow our clinicians to get more comfortable with the new system and processes. It gave us more time to continue to teach the clinicians how to more efficiently and effectively utilize the EHR.”
With the successful conversion completed, hospital leaders feel confident their new EHR will help see them through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
“We’re happy with our choice to go with Cerner,” said Kidd. “It was a no-brainer decision, and Cerner is known for quality. While doing a virtual go live would not have been our first choice, it went well because we had a well-prepared team.”