EHR Project Management: Reducing Pain with Strong Techniques
By Brookelynn Williams | February 26, 2019
Healthcare IT projects are daunting. Healthcare organizations notoriously postpone initiating large-scale projects – despite knowing how critical such upgrades are to an organization’s success and infrastructure – due to the vast scope and potential for overwhelm with such a project. Yet, with the right project management techniques, we have been able to guide our clients from conception to completion and beyond with vast success.
The trick to successful project management is understanding and anticipating the pain points of the organization as well as the upcoming project ahead of time.
Although most healthcare IT project execution teams anticipate the potential challenges of a project, few take the time to assess whether the project is serving the ultimate goals and challenges of the organization at large.
Additionally, few project management teams go in-depth to consider the risks involved at every stage of the execution process.
In order to begin building the foundations of a successfully managed healthcare IT project, we must start by anticipating and mitigating the most common pain points organizations face and how project management techniques can relieve the strain.
Common Project Pain Points
Although each healthcare organization is a unique entity in its own right, every single healthcare organization has likely faced these pain points in the course of trying to enhance its IT infrastructure.
Data Extraction & Migration
“Data” is a scary word for most. I will admit that our operations team may be among the rare few people who actually enjoy working with data and extrapolating valuable insights from its recesses. Most people, however, particularly those in the healthcare industry, struggle with the overwhelming possibilities data offers.
When it comes time to move from one electronic health record (EHR) system to another or from analog records to digital records (my heart goes out to you!), most healthcare organizations wrestle with the challenge of getting the data out of its current form and into the new system.
Most teams do not have the resources to make the data transition happen smoothly or in such a way that will set their organization up for success in the future.
Data is an external beast that we can all agree is difficult to surmount. However, most healthcare organizations assume that the interpersonal task of communication should happen naturally and without effort.
Sadly, communication is a skill that requires a great deal of intentional effort to build into the culture of an organization. Interpersonal communication is one of the biggest challenges teams face in executing a healthcare IT project.
Moreover, the tools and systems used must be able to communicate with one another, as well. For example, the information exchanged between different health information exchange centers (HIECs) may require finesse.
The truth is, it is not enough to assume that advanced technology will automatically do what we need it to. Rather, even high-tech tools need a human liaison.
Cost & Time
Our deepest intention is always to care for patients and provide the utmost quality care. However, in order to do that, we need to consider the two critical factors that allow us to provide that care: time and money.
When it comes to finding the right tools to implement across an entire organization, many fail to spend the time to find the right tool and instead opt for the system that has the most reasonable cost.
In the long run, not taking the time to vet a system before implementing it can cost far more than if an organization had done the research and ultimately chosen a more expensive system that was a better fit for the needs of their clinicians, staff, and patients.
Most healthcare organizations do not know – or are unsure how – that it is possible to test the available tools prior to finalizing a decision.
Smaller projects compound and comprise the larger project. As a result, if an organization is overwhelmed by many smaller projects, their entire larger project is going to go off the rails.
In addition to all of these pain points, the overwhelm of such an endeavor can be enough to derail even the most well-aligned teams. Luckily, there are project management techniques you can put in place to ensure your healthcare IT project is a success.
Project Management Techniques
First, the most critical aspect of your project is to find the right project manager. The role of the project manager is to keep everyone on task. If a particular stage of the project is delaying progress, the project manager is there to help the team member responsible for the task complete his or her work effectively.
An effective project manager eliminates barriers – such as lack of accountability, missing dependencies, and lack of clarity on goals – in order to create the space for each team member to thrive.
With the right person in place, your ideal project manager will deploy strategic project management techniques to make the healthcare IT project run like clockwork. Now, that is not to say that there will not be challenges – of course there will. However, an effective project manager anticipates those challenges and thoroughly investigates during the discovery phase.
In the discovery phase, a project manager will examine all facets of the organization and evaluate for any weak points that may need additional support along the way.
A critical project management technique used during this phase is risk assessment. The risk assessment exercise examines the weakest points of an organization to plan for any potential set backs.
Most commonly, these set backs relate to data extraction and migration, which, if not done correctly, can result in duplicate patient data, outdated data sets, and inaccurate codes.
Such challenges and the potential risks to the organization should be identified and planned for in the discovery phase.
At John Lynch & Associates, we help our clients through a successful IT project by applying a five pillar strategy focused on:
In addition to effective project management techniques, following an overarching structure can ensure that every team member of the healthcare IT project is focused on accomplishing one critical, unifying goal at a time before moving on to the next pillar.
Once the discovery phase is complete and the overall project roadmap has been outlined, an effective project manager will break down the larger scope of the healthcare IT project into smaller projects within departments.
With an effective, realistic breakdown of the overall project plan in place, the bite-sized structure allows an organization to eliminate overwhelm, maintain awareness of the project’s progress over time, and ultimately save the organization time and money.
Maintaining Patient Care
One of the most critical project management techniques that is absolutely essential to a successful EHR project implementation is effective patient risk mitigation. As a healthcare organization, any project you implement cannot interrupt patient care.
The safety and satisfaction of the patient population you serve is the utmost important factor. Therefore, every step of the project must be evaluated in terms of the impact it will have on patients and services.
At John Lynch & Associates, we follow a specific implementation roadmap to ensure that patient care is never interrupted and is impacted at an absolute minimum.
However, there will certainly be times when systems may be offline or patients will be asked to transition from one familiar process to a new process; such shifts are inevitable when a large-scale healthcare IT project occurs. Yet, an effective project manager will ensure that communication with patients is done prior to and throughout the course of the project while also using messaging that facilitates understanding and communicates value.
Are you getting ready to embark on a massive healthcare IT project? Check in with us for a consult to ensure your team is using the best project management techniques to ensure your success.