EHR consolidation: How to lead with empathy

Abby-PolichYour healthcare system acquired five new facilities and implemented a consolidated EHR system, but adoption rates fell far short of your target – what happened?

When a merger or acquisition impacts a healthcare system, there’s often a rush to consolidate technology systems to create efficiencies and improve patient care. But there’s a reason the tried-and-true tenets of technology implementation are people, process, and technology – and in that order. 

Consolidations can be scary. People want to know what will happen, when it will happen, and how it will personally affect them. To successfully transform patient care and accelerate clinical, operational, and financial value, healthcare leaders must cultivate a deep sense of empathy and prioritize their people in consolidation planning, change management, and training. 

Put people first

Unlike changing the logo on your door or the color of your scrubs, your existing technology platforms as the acquiring organization will likely not work “as is” for your new healthcare partners, and you must take time to ensure it will work for them. Healthcare system leaders can create internal readiness and willingness to accept change by putting people first and empathizing with their concerns:

  • Clearly define the change
  • Explain why the change is necessary and beneficial
  • Show how the organization has mapped out and planned the process
  • Communicate everyone’s role transparently and honestly 
  • Be candid about how the change impacts them. 

If leaders cannot prepare their people for the change and adjust how they feel before the implementation, they've already lost the battle. Clear and consistent communication increases your chances of success, but that requires detailed planning from the start.

Set the vision

To set the tone and the vision for a consolidation project, leaders from both sides of the merger or acquisition must:

  • Sing from the same songbook. C-suites, executives and teams who set the vision well understand that focusing on people is the best way to get things done. They understand that without a clear vision and buy-in, the consolidation will fail. So, leaders from all the entities involved must be on the same page. Maintaining harmony among leaders and groups from different organizations will help manage perceptions of the change and keep the word on the street positive.
  • Identify stakeholder groups early. Too often, some groups get forgotten during consolidation projects. Patients and the community must also understand what's happening because the implementation also affects them – service may be slower as the health care teams get used to the new system or the healthcare system might communicate with them differently, such as using a patient portal, to receive test results. Many in the community also work at the hospital or rely on its services, so it's vital to understand their feelings and anticipate any questions.
  • Consider communication. Not everybody communicates or learns the same way, so it's crucial to know the best ways to reach end-user groups. For example, town halls at 7 a.m. could exclude working parents who can't attend because they have work obligations or must drop off the kids at school. Perhaps newsletter briefs, Lunch and Learns or recorded meetings would be more effective. Sometimes out-of-the-box ways might also be the most effective like posting a notice in the restroom where you’ll get the most eyes. Thinking strategically – and creatively – about how to set up your communication plan helps everyone understand what's happening and the role they play in the consolidation.
  • Welcome the naysayers. In consolidations, some team members might be apprehensive or frustrated as the process begins. But welcoming them to share their feedback can help pivot other naysayers into potentially becoming your biggest allies. Responding and reacting well to concerns or worries will ultimately help the consolidation go more smoothly with staff. Don't be afraid to take advantage of those who are not initially welcoming of the change and include them in building out the plan. By doing so, they will feel more confident in the consolidation and champion it to others in the organization.
  • Explain the “why” honestly and transparently. Of course, it’s also about the ROI, which is necessary to further advance the mission. “No money, no mission,” as the saying goes. But EHR implementations are also supposed to make life easier. Leaders must convey the No. 1 reason for consolidation is the patient – improving care and access to care. While increased revenues are important, that increase doesn’t automatically mean increased throughput or productivity. Getting a bed back does improve revenue when you can drop the claim, but it also allows you to serve another patient who’s been waiting for care. Take financial measures, or any metric, and turn them into a patient-centric measure so your patient-facing staff feels fulfilled in their desire to help people.

Accelerate time to value

Consolidating systems often cut two of the most important people-focused components from budgets – change management and training – which are also the things usually blamed when EHR implementations don't go well. But when leaders set the stage for change, focus on properly training and educating their people, and lead with empathy, the impact on the organization can be transformational. If the three-legged stool is implemented in the correct order – people, process, technology – organizations can accelerate the value of the consolidation effort much faster, get everybody on the same path, define the mission with better clarity and internal buy-in, and best serve their people and patients.

If you're looking for a partner to help you plan and implement your next consolidation project, learn more here.


This article originally appeared in Becker's Hospital Review.

Topics: EHR, change management, Implementation, featured

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