In speaking with various healthcare executives this year, there seems to be a few challenges that always come up in conversation. One of them relates to the introduction of new technology to support physicians in their practice of medicine. Just a few years ago, the percentage of physicians using electronic medical records was in the single digits. Now, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, most physicians have adopted these technologies to some degree. Unfortunately, many are still struggling to find a positive user experience.

Complaints from physicians about spending more time with their computers than with their patients are the norm. Whether you are a healthcare executive or a technology executive, these disappointing results bring painful consequences. While everyone is striving to ensure these new technologies provide a net benefit to both efficiency and the quality of the practice of medicine, the industry as a whole has been unable to facilitate these critical innovations.

Focus on the stakeholders

When advising on how to address this challenge, I explained how a greater focus on the stakeholder management aspects of the lifecycle is key. A close connection between the physicians, their technology leadership, and their vendor must be maintained throughout each stage of the project. The extra focus is necessary because this is a complicated partnership. A vital element of the “doctor-patient relationship” is that brief and very personal connection that takes place during the visit. Technology has a way of getting in the way, serving to distract rather than enhance that connection.

If we are intentional with our approach, connecting each of the stakeholders will ultimately enhance the connection between the doctor and the patient. While this is intuitively obvious, it’s fraught with challenges. In an era of healthcare reform, each of the stakeholder groups face competing priorities for their time. Physicians are under pressure to see more patients in less time, capturing more data along the way. Technology professionals are faced with constant regulatory change that drives frequent upgrades. This cascades into the vendor community. Consequently, each of these groups shortcut the time required in the process resulting in false starts, user resistance, and troubled implementations.

Failures are necessary for innovation and learning

Another important insight that must be considered relates to the innovation process itself. The collaboration must take place in such a way as to discover new value pathways that marry the process of care with technology to improve both the quality and efficiency of care. This requires physicians to engage in understanding technical capabilities and limitations, offering creative ideas and constructive feedback. This is typically outside the comfort zone of many providers. Some even view these iterations as failure and disconnect out of frustration.

Teams must understand that innovation requires iteration to achieve optimization. We need to help each stakeholder group anticipate and embrace this cycle. Each contributor must understand from the beginning that we will likely improve on our initial thoughts, some of which may end up failing the first time. This is normal and should be embraced as the success of continuing to improve and learn.

Lean and Agile methods can be leveraged to facilitate and even accelerate the process, but leadership must provide continuing guidance and support to each stakeholder group until the solution provides a net benefit to both efficiency and the quality of the practice of medicine.

Jim Wilder is a Healthcare Industry CIO and Director at Quality Deployment. He can be reached at [email protected].

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