By Kristene Erwin, Manager, Client Services
The digital transformation of a healthcare system is an amazing thing. Done well, it produces better patient experiences and outcomes, eases the burden on clinicians and staff and allows operations to proceed with fewer interruptions and inefficiencies. When I manage these projects, it’s gratifying to see how deeply all the stakeholders value patient care and ensure that the central mission doesn’t get lost during IT upgrades. Of course, it takes more than good intentions and a common mission for a healthcare IT project to be successful. They’re complex, expensive and involve a lot of moving parts. In my career as a project manager, I’ve learned that four components are critical to the success of digital enhancements.
The 4 keys to a successful health IT projects
1. Define Clinical Workstreams
We tend to think of HIT as the sole province of the hospital system’s IT department, but it’s not. Ultimately, the success of the technology will be determined by the clinicians, staff and even patients who use it – not by those who designed it or engineered it.
For that reason, the technology must be designed with those end users in mind. It must be easy to understand, simple to use and solve their problems. That can only be accomplished with the constant input from the front lines, whether it’s nurses, physicians, or therapists, and a thorough understanding of how they do their work and where it can be improved. The clinical workstream should be mapped from start to finish and, in the end, integrating new technology should make it flow more smoothly.
2. Create Collaboration Between IT and Clinicians
At the risk of sounding obvious, digital technology has to work.
It must solve the problems that need solving without creating new ones. It should be user-friendly, free of extraneous features and integrate seamlessly into existing systems and workstreams. While it can be tempting to allow IT departments with their specific knowledge to drive the bus on these projects, it’s important to remember that IT exists to support the mission of healthcare. IT departments must have a strong voice in choosing and implementing new technology, but only in collaboration with clinical teams will they make those new technologies most effective.
3. Prioritize Governance
HIT projects, whether a systemwide digital transformation or something smaller in scale, are lengthy, complex processes that frequently span multiple departments. Ensuring they run smoothly and meet budget and timeline goals requires strong leadership.
An HIT project is simply too important and expensive to have no one – or everyone – be responsible for it. Someone needs to be in charge. Designating a leader who can identify key stakeholders, create a shared vision, ensure that all stakeholders’ voices are heard, and secure buy-in from staff who will benefit from the new solution is critical.
Of course, that leader also needs the backing of the administration and the authority to get things done.
4. Plan for Operational Support and Management
No matter how well-designed the technology or well-planned the rollout, there will be glitches, unforeseen issues, and questions from end users. It’s an expected aspect of any technology implementation and it emphasizes the need to plan for support that is thoroughly trained in the new system and that has the resources and capacity to maintain it.
There is a crucial period during and shortly after rollout when any new technology acquires a reputation among users. Troubleshooting and answering users’ questions quickly goes a long way toward ensuring its acceptance and adoption.
Some healthcare systems have created clinical communications units within or separate from their IT departments to manage technology and systems that are part of clinical workflows. However it’s handled, it’s important to understand that as technology demands grow and emerging solutions become available, additional and knowledgeable resource support is also needed.
How an HIT consultant can help you succeed in your next healthcare IT project
Overburdened and understaffed, healthcare systems already operate at the limits of their capacity. Tackling a large HIT project with only internal resources can cause delays and even endanger the success of the program. An HIT consultant can be invaluable to the success of a project.
HIT consultants bring an objective and comprehensive point of view to a project: its goals, budget, timelines, workflows and obstacles. Since they’re not affiliated with a single department or unit in the system, they’re able to serve as a facilitator and intermediary among various stakeholders and make sure that lines of communication are open and interests are aligned. As independent outsiders, they’re also free of any interdepartmental disputes or rivalries that could derail a project.
The key is to understand how all IT solutions fit together to benefit patient care. The HIT consultant plays the role of orchestrator, developing a holistic strategy, creating a governance structure, bringing different parties to the table to foster productive conversations, and ensuring that all new technology solutions are properly integrated into the clinical ecosystem.
In addition, HIT consultants bring expertise in selecting and managing vendors, which can save clients time, money and frustration. Because the consultant has no responsibilities other than the project, they reduce stress for hospital IT departments who would have to balance implementation with their daily tasks.
Ultimately, HIT makes better patient care possible. Putting it all in place can be a challenge, but it’s one that can be met with the right resources. Keeping these four keys in mind will make it easier.