By Pamela J. Gallagher
With an unprecedented number of healthcare provider mergers and acquisitions in recent years and new requirements being ushered in with the Affordable Care Act, healthcare professionals are in a constant state of technology systems transition. Though replacing a legacy system can be necessary and even beneficial to patient care or a hospital’s bottom line, times of transition deeply impact the people these organizations are relying on to provide quality care and keep the healthcare organization running efficiently.
To consider the implementation of a new system a success, you need to do more than make it to launch day on time and under budget. Your employees—the intended users of the new technology—need to understand the “why” behind the switch and actually use the system as intended with their sanity intact. In my experience, this can only be accomplished by engaging your people and giving them a voice at every step in the process.
Before selecting a new system for your hospital or healthcare organization, it is essential to get the right people at the table to create a roadmap for the transition process. Be sure to involve and gather feedback from:
- Employees who can think critically about workflow efficiencies so you can ensure that you aren’t carrying bad practices forward with the new system.
- People who are highly knowledgeable about the current technology in place and its limitations. They will have invaluable insights into problems that any future systems need to solve.
- Anyone who has a vested interest in the new system. If the new technology is clinical in nature, you need to make sure physicians and nurses have a voice. If it’s a change in back-office technology, human resources professionals or accountants who will use this technology regularly will need to be invited into the conversation.
- Any department who will deal with a heavier-than-normal workload during the parallel running process or launch.
These groups have the expertise and high levels of investment to help your executive team document your current process, find the right technology to replace your legacy system, determine real costs, and set a reasonable timeline.
Once you have the right voices in the conversation and have developed a transition roadmap, it’s time to begin the process of designing and implementing the new system. As your team enters into the design phase, resist the temptation to get caught up in all the bells and whistles the technology can offer that your legacy system doesn’t. Keep your focus on your people—what the end-user needs to do their job—not what the technology can do. I recommend surveying all employees about the pain points of the current system pre-transition. This will sharpen your focus and allow you to measure progress once the new system is fully integrated.
Communicate with your staff throughout the implantation process, helping them know what to expect and the “why” behind the change in system. You need to be able to explain the reasons for the transition. After all, it’s increasing their workload for a time, so it’s essential that every effected department understand what’s in it for them.
One way you can help your employees understand the benefits of the new system—while also working out the kinks before it goes live—is involving beta users as you do a test or run the new system parallel to your current one. Choose individuals who have a vested interest in the transition who are gifted communicators and trusted by their colleagues.
It is important to remember that transitioning from a legacy system to a new one will require training pre- and post-launch. You can’t just hand your employees something new and expect them to figure it out. Most systems just aren’t that intuitive. Take questions and feedback during the training, and create a detailed guide for your employees to reference after the training for questions that come up along the way. It’s like renting a car—you may be able to drive it, but it takes time to figure out how to turn on the lights, adjust the seat, and get the gas cap open.
Plan a follow-up training a short period of time after the new system is live. This will reassure your people that your executive team understands that there will be a learning curve and has reasonable expectations of them.
End-user acceptance of the new system is critical. The entire goal of switching from your legacy system is to enhance and improve their work, not create additional burden of implementing a new system/processes without a cause. Create opportunities for feedback. Do another survey after launch to ensure the pain points from your pre-transition survey have been addressed.
Confirm that people are using the new system as it was designed to be used, and if they aren’t, consider whether more training or tweaks to the system design might be helpful. You should build continuing support into the contract with the tech company you work with to implement the new system to ensure expectations are being met. A successful project needs to be more than on time and under budget—people must be using it.
Pamela J. Gallagher is a senior healthcare finance executive with 20 years of experience balancing the reality of finance with the delivery of excellent patient care. As a consultant she instills financial discipline, streamlines processes to maximize revenue, and reduces expenses for immediate improvements and long-term results. She writes on healthcare, finance, and technology at gallaghersresulting.com.