We have all heard the musings of IT professionals about how health information technology (HIT) is the reason for all things good, or how they have built the most elegant system and users will flock to it. Unfortunately, end users don’t always see it that way. This disconnect between the perceived and actual value of IT can often lead to larger communication and change management issues. To avoid this disconnect, both IT and operations leaders need to be aware of the most common misconceptions regarding the value of HIT:
1. IT in and of itself is valuable.
The 1980s and 1990s saw companies gain competitive advantage simply by owning IT systems, but those days are long gone. Successfully implementing an electronic health record (EHR) is now a prerequisite to doing business in the healthcare industry. CIOs are obligated to develop business cases for new systems and demonstrate the value they will provide to the organization. Even the almighty EHR can no longer solely support progressive organizational strategies such as accountable care organizations or patient-centered medical homes. IT is part of a larger business strategy, not a means unto itself.
2. IT systems will work out of the box with only limited customizations.
Vendors would like you to think that all you need to do is take their system out of the box and implement it with few if any changes. Vendors are correct in suggesting that greater standardization of work flows should be a goal of your organization, but your specific market, specialty mix, and patient demographics may require unique work flows that vendors cannot anticipate. Providing a moderate level of customization improves physician satisfaction, while general standardization lets groups manage a sustainable number of support resources, control costs, and take progressive actions in IT instead of simply maintaining existing systems.
3. Build it and they will come.
IT professionals are often caricatured (e.g., Dilbert comic strips) for their misguided belief that spending all day and night isolated in a dark room with pizza and caffeine will result in the perfect system for users. The reality is that users often reject these “perfect” systems because the user interface is too complex and non-intuitive (e.g., too many mouse clicks or hard-to-find menu choices) or the system doesn’t accommodate their processes (e.g., an e-prescribing system that has left out the ability to easily order refills). Systems and work flows implemented in an IT bubble, away from end users with real-world problems (e.g., sick patients, slow networks, a desire to get home before midnight), can be rendered useless if users fail to adopt them. By involving end users in system selection, build, and optimization, you can improve the probability that the systems being implemented will meet users’ needs, positively affect their activities, and achieve better adoption.
4. I work in IT, not grief counseling.
IT staff often forget that large-scale system implementations can be borderline traumatic for staff and patients. It’s a huge process that requires change management to ensure success, and this means helping staff and patients understand how the new system will provide value. Be it implementing a patient portal as part of your Meaningful Use strategy or rolling out ICD-10 to your organization, users need to know the “why” behind a new system and how the change will directly affect them. IT staff should collaborate with marketing and communications teams to facilitate change management and educate users on the new system’s importance. Additionally, leaders must help IT professionals understand how to best engage providers and other users by focusing on what matters most to them and on what will make their day-to-day work easier.
5. Everyone understands the value of HIT.
While IT staff live, eat, and breathe HIT, most of the world does not. IT has become a utility. People only think about electricity when a storm knocks the power out. Similarly, non-IT leaders often consider IT a “focused factory” that simply hums along unnoticed – until something breaks. IT leaders must fight this misconception. They must work within their organizations to ensure that IT staff are recognized for the value they add by enabling the organization to achieve its mission and goals. Retention and recognition of these personnel are key success factors to maintaining a successful IT shop.
6. Defense wins the game.
For decades, the focus of the CIO (if there even was one) was keeping the lights on and the financial systems running. Maintaining minimal downtime and keeping costs under control helped the CIO contribute to the organization’s bottom-line growth. With the advent of cloud computing and the outsourcing of infrastructure support, the rules have changed. The focus has shifted to driving top-line growth (e.g., increasing revenues by attracting more patients, enabling the organization to capture Meaningful Use dollars) with a focus on the return on investment. IT leaders need to ensure their systems are aligned with business strategies and that they help create competitive advantages for their organization, at a quicker pace than may have previously been expected.
By understanding the assumptions your organization may be making about the value of HIT, you can help guide it to a true understanding of HIT’s importance. You can also support your IT professionals so that they recognize their own role in providing this value.
ECG is a proud partner of National Health IT Week. Join us in raising awareness of the value of healthcare information technology. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for updates throughout the week.