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Data management - How to switch to new clinical software

A well-planned move avoids disrupting patients and staff. By Margaret Baines and Dr Nicholas Buckley

Dr Buckley: back-up support and advice from the system supplier was vital to a smooth switch over
Dr Buckley: back-up support and advice from the system supplier was vital to a smooth switch over

An effective IT system is so pivotal to the smooth running of a modern GP surgery that changing to a new system can seem a daunting task.

Having used the same system for 15 years, we approached our switch in May this year with some trepidation.

However, our experience shows that with the right preparation and a good working relationship with your IT supplier, the change over can be smooth.

Our practice, St Georges Surgery in Blackburn, was one of the first to move to a next generation system from our current supplier. The new system is a centrally hosted one and, as early adopters, we were promised plenty of training and practical support.

Getting started
One of the first steps was to use our supplier's 'familiarisation service' - running the new system in parallel with the existing one.

This allowed staff to try out the new software and its functionality before the system went live two months later.

It also allowed us to do some important preparation for the move, including setting up clinical templates and our appointments book as well as transferring notes and tasks.

The switch would have been a lot harder without the familiarisation service. Being able to 'play around' with the system before we went live built up everyone's confidence.

Before beginning training, it is worth doing an analysis of training needs with your system supplier, as people's IT skills vary.

We used a mixture of face- to-face sessions (drop-in and formal), e-learning tools and online seminars provided by our supplier. Administration and clinical staff trained separately.

We also consulted the trainers about specific problems as we went through the familiarisation process.

Migrating data
It is important to get your supplier's advice on how to do this safely and efficiently and make sure enough time is set aside for the transfer from old to new system. We made one practice team member ultimately responsibility for transferring data.

In our case, we were able to stream real-time data from our current system to the new-hosted system, enabling us to learn how to use it while reviewing the data. This allowed us to do our training and review the data.

Our supplier provided lists of data to check during dedicated training sessions. We split these up and carried out regular, random checks of data during streaming. The night before we went live, we did a final backup of our old system and this was securely couriered to our supplier.

We were then sent a validated CD of the backed up data to be used for any subsequent audit retrieval and analysis.

Final preparation
We prepared for 'go live' day by printing off all the surgery lists in case there were any hitches in switching on the new system and we had to run surgeries 'manually' on the day. In the event, we had been far more worried about potential problems than we needed.

Go live day
This was Wednesday 12 May. Our supplier switched off the old system the night before and the new one came on live the next morning. We ran normal surgeries, but blocked out every other appointment to give the GPs more time to work with the new system. By 11am the GPs were up to speed and asking for the blocked appointments to be released.

Issues post switch over
We have had one instance of downtime and a number of minor bugs in the system as it bedded down but this was to be expected as an early adopter.

The support from our supplier has been great and the company has continued to provide regular updates.

Our practice
  • The St Georges surgery in Blackburn has been based in purpose-built premises since 2003.
  • Five GP partners serve a list of 8,500. We have a total of 14 staff, including nurses and administration staff.
  • We have used the EMIS LV system since 1995 and switched to EMIS Web in May 2010.

Tips for switching systems
  • Be methodical. We had a whiteboard set up with key actions and dates to ensure everything was done. Check with your system supplier what you (and it) need to do and agree the timescale with it.
  • Ensure that your system supplier offers the right type of training for different members of staff. Listen to advice from the trainers and use them to help iron out issues before you go live.
  • Keep the team and patients informed. Put up posters round the surgery explaining what is happening. Ensure that staff explain to people on 'go live day' that tasks may take a little longer than usual.
  • After the switch over, report bugs to your supplier and keep a daily log so that everybody knows problems are being fixed.
  • Remind everyone in the team that you are switching because the new system will help improve the service to patients.

  • Margaret Baines is the practice manager and Dr Buckley is a GP at a Lancashire practice.

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