The following is a guest blog post by Heather Haugen, PhD, Managing Director and CEO at The Breakaway Group (A Xerox Company). Check out all of the blog posts in the Breakaway Thinking series.
What is the most significant barrier to Electronic Health Record (EHR) adoption for clinicians? This question was the foundation of our research published in Beyond Implementation: A Prescription for Lasting EMR Adoption in 2010. The answer wasn’t surprising then and won’t surprise you now, but let’s consider how your leaders are doing in the face of enormous change in healthcare (think telemedicine, high pharmaceutical costs, rising medical costs, medical ID theft). It’s more important than ever to focus on technology adoption in today’s healthcare climate.
The one factor that formed a pattern across every organization struggling with EHR adoption was a lack of engagement by those leading the effort, and this still holds true today. For many reasons, this is a hard pill to swallow. First, it places responsibility back on the earliest champions: those who decided to fund and move the entire organization into an EHR implementation or upgrade. Second, it requires already overworked executive and clinical leaders to make adoption a daily priority. Effective leadership is an antecedent to adoption.
There is no greater barrier to the adoption of a complex IT application in an ever-changing healthcare environment than believing we can simply pile this effort on top of the other priorities and expect success. Organizations with disengaged, part-time, and/or overworked leaders at the helm of an EHR effort will struggle and may never achieve full adoption. In contrast, organizations with leaders who are fully invested in the daily march toward adoption will not only reach the early stages of adoption, but will enjoy a reinforced cycle of meaningful clinical and financial outcomes. Leadership must take five steps to succeed in moving their organization toward EHR adoption.
Develop a “stop doing” list: Establishing a new leadership agenda requires freeing up time for those leading and working on the effort. Without reprioritizing daily tasks, EHR adoption receives inadequate time and attention. Leaders currently in charge of EHR adoption need to understand what they are going to stop doing and focus on maintaining the courage to follow through on their decision.
Create a positive tone at the top of the organization: One of the most challenging aspects of leading an EHR adoption is transforming the project into a compelling and meaningful effort for everyone. When people, especially clinicians, believe in a cause, they will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure a successful outcome. Creating a common message with purpose and constancy is not easy, and sustaining the message is even more difficult. But when leaders create the right tone for the EHR adoption message, it will be powerful and help maintain momentum to create change.
Connect to clinical leadership: The key to provider adoption of EHRs is engagement. A governance system will engage clinicians through responsibilities and accountabilities and create clinician champions – the most highly-respected and well-networked clinicians. A high level of provider engagement can ameliorate or even overcome the common barriers to adoption, including resistance to abandoning the previous charting method, the investment of time required to learn the new system and the initial drop in productivity until users attain proficiency.
Empower decision-makers and reinforce their spheres of influence: Implementing or upgrading an EHR requires thoughtful consideration of the policies and procedures that will govern the use of the system. There are many stakeholders with a myriad of opinions and often competing interests that can dramatically slow adoption of the EHR. Adhering to a well-defined governance process ensures that the right people are involved at the right time with the right information. The lack of governance allows the wrong people to endlessly debate decisions, ignore standards and often conclude by making the wrong decisions. Leaders must establish strong governance processes that define expectations around adoption of the EHR, involve the right stakeholders to make decisions, establish policies and best practices and ultimately evaluate performance against expectations. Governance must also be flexible enough to evolve over time.
Relentlessly pursue meaningful clinical and financial metrics: The payoff for adopting an EHR comes in the form of clinical and financial outcomes. If results are neither tracked nor realized, the effort is truly a waste of time and money. Our expectations need to be realistic, but it really is the leaders who are accountable for the relentless pursuit of positive outcomes. Leaders must incent the right people to collect, analyze, and report on the data. Similar to engaging clinicians, this requires some finesse. The good news is that clinicians are generally interested in these metrics and may find the numbers compelling enough to change processes enough to impact the outcomes. Identify several key metrics that are easy to collect, work to improve them and then measure again.
Now is the time to create a new leadership agenda to drive EHR adoption and ultimately improve patient care – which is the goal we all share!
Xerox is a sponsor of the Breakaway Thinking series of blog posts. The Breakaway Group is a leader in EHR and Health IT training.