Internal Eval Week: Debbie Cohen on Electronic Health Records Data Tips

Hi, my name is Debbie Cohen. I am the Director of Evaluation at Community Mental Health Center, Inc., a community mental health center that serves five rural counties in Southeastern Indiana. One of my roles in the agency is to pull data from our Electronic Health Record (EHR) and to use it to evaluate programming and to foster continuous quality improvement. Here are my tips for internal evaluators and other agency staff members out there who are planning to implement an EHR and use the data to evaluate programs.

Hot Tip #1: Learn SQL or Find Someone Who Knows SQL

If you plan to pull data from your EHR you will have to have a way to tell the database to pull the data that you want.  For many EHRs, that requires the use of SQL (Structured Query Language). Some EHRs come with “prepackaged” reports, but if you want to have the ability to access any of the data in the system, SQL is a necessity. SQL is a database computer language designed for managing data in relational database management systems. You will not learn SQL overnight, but there are various classes and books available. I recommend SQL for dummies ( ) it has taken me a year to feel confident in my SQL skills, but now our agency is becoming much more data informed.

Hot Tip #2: Learn about your EHR Database

In order to use the data within the EHR you have to know what data is being entered. Look at the data entry screens and obtain a copy of the database schema from the EHR Company. Once you understand what data is being entered and what is not, you will have a better idea what sort of information you can use to inform practice. Not everything kept in an EHR will “live” in the database, for example, you may retrieve service data for a client, but you will not be able to retrieve the narrative from the progress notes from each service.

Hot Tip #3: Find Ways to Communicate Information Back to Staff

The EHR our agency uses offers a way for me to publish reports to any staff’s “portal.” Now our front line staff can monitor their own performance and management staff can examine their program from a programming, performance, or financial perspective. Our hope is to transform our agency into a data-driven agency that uses data to inform practice from at all levels of the agency.

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to

1 thought on “Internal Eval Week: Debbie Cohen on Electronic Health Records Data Tips”

  1. Hi Debbie,

    Thanks for the insightful post. I think proper database construction is one of the most overlooked aspects of most evaluands. Proper database design and utilization could save MANY headaches down the line.

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