Each year the Health Information and Management Systems Society’s (HIMSS) annual conference is the Super Bowl of health IT. No other conference boasts more attendees ranging from health IT innovators and collaborators to pioneers. This year 40,000 plus participants descended on Chicago, all eager to learn about the new direction, trends, and solutions of the industry.
As always, buzzwords were aplenty—interoperability, care coordination, patient experience, and value-based care, to mention a few. During her keynote address on April 16, Karen DeSalvo, National Coordinator for the ONC, called the current state of health IT the “tipping point.” In 2011 the ONC released its four-year strategic plan focused on implementing and adopting electronic health records (EHRs). Now, DeSalvo says the industry is changed and ready to move beyond EHRs to technologies that will create “true interoperability.”
Enlightening conversations were happening among the crowded booths, hallways, and meeting rooms between organizations looking to ‘rip and replace’ their current EHR for a new one. While some organizations are struggling to unlock data across disparate systems, others are looking to upgrade their current system for one compatible with ICD-10, Meaningful Use, analytics solutions, or a combination of these. Still others are looking to replace systems they dislike for lack of functionality, vendor relationships, etc. In many cases, replacing an EHR is needed to ensure interoperability is at the very least viable. This buzz at HIMSS is a strong indicator that EHRs are still an important and essential part of health IT, and perhaps some organizations have not reached the tipping point.
In addition to the many challenges these organizations are facing—from data portability, an issue John Lynn wrote about in August 2012, to the cost of replacing the system—leaders are agonizing over the resistance they are facing from clinician end users. How can these organizations force clinicians to give up systems they once resisted, then embraced and worked so hard to adopt? How can leadership inspire the same level of engagement needed for adoption? The challenge is similar to transitioning from paper to an EHR, only more significant. Whereas the reasons for switching from paper were straightforward—patient safety, efficiency, interoperability, etc.—they are not so clear when switching applications.
Clinicians are also making harsher comparisons between applications—from every drop-down list, to icon, to keyboard shortcut. These comparisons are occurring at drastically different phases in the adoption lifecycle. Consider the example of an end user needing to document a progress note. In the old EHR, this user knew how to copy forward previous documentation, but in the new system she doesn’t know if this functionality even exists. Already the end user is viewing the new system as cumbersome and inefficient compared to the old application. Multiply this comparison by each of the various tasks she completes throughout her day, and the end user is strongly questioning her organization’s decision to make the change.
This highlights an important point: Swapping one EHR for another will take more planning, effort, and strategy than a first-ever implementation. The methods for achieving adoption are the same, but the degree to which they are employed is not. Leadership will not only have to re-engage end users and facilitate buy-in, they will have to address the loss of efficiency and optimization by replacing the old application.
Leadership should start by clearly outlining the reasons for change, a long-term strategy, as well frustrations end users can expect. They should establish a strong governance and support structure to ensure end users adhere to policies, procedures, and best practices for using the application. The organizations that will succeed will provide end users with role-based education complete with hands-on experience completing best practice workflows in the application. Education should include competency tests that assess end users’ ability to complete key components of their workflow. Additionally, organizations must capture and track performance measurements to ensure optimized use of the system and identify areas of need. And because adoption recedes after application upgrades and workflow enhancements, all efforts should be sustained and modified as needed.
While HIMSS15 brought to the stage a wealth of new ideas, solutions, and visions for the future of health IT, the struggle to adopt an EHR has not completely gone away. Many organizations are grappling with their current EHR and choosing to replace it in hopes of meeting the triple aim of improving care, costs, and population health. For these organizations to be prepared for true interoperability, they must overcome challenges unseen in paper to electronic implementations. And if done successfully, only then will our industry uniformly reach the tipping point, a point where we can begin to put buzzwords into practice.
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