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By Margaret M. Conner-Levin, MSW

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs introduced new legislation to create third-party oversight of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs’ (VA) implementation of Cerner as the system’s new electronic health record (EHR) platform. The implementation process has been plagued by delays and cost increases to the point where Senators from both parties felt that more direct supervision of the process was necessary (see VA Snafus Prompt Bipartisan Call For More EHR and Senators Move To Ramp Up Oversight Of VA’s $16B EHR Project).

While most EHR implementation failures don’t necessitate congressional oversight or generate national headlines, it’s an all too familiar story for many health and human service provider organizations. Successful tech implementation is almost the exception, rather than the rule. A recent report found that only about 29% of a group of 50,000 information technology (IT) projects could be counted as “successful” and 19% were compete failures (see Standish Group CHAOS Report). In health care, the numbers are also grim—reports indicate that about 24% of IT projects “totally fail” and 44% “have difficulties in meeting their goals” (see Causes Of Failure In Healthcare IT Projects). If we drill down to electronic health record (EHR) implementation specifically, 20% are often considered failures (see 10 EHR Failure Statistics: Why You Need To Get It Right First Time).

If those stats are “a rock”, then the likelihood that health and human service organizations will need to implement more technology is “the hard place.” In a value-driven environment, it’s necessary to not only keep up with advancements in EHRs and data analytics, but also the ever-widening field of virtual health, decision support and artificial intelligence, consumer portals, and digital tools.

So, what are the keys to success with new technology? This week, I talked to my OPEN MINDS colleagues who have extensive experience in technology implementations. They confirmed what we see in the statistics—technology implementation is difficult at the best of times and for most organizations, there will likely be failures at some point along the way. To get started with the implementation processes, we recommend organizations follow our best practice model, which our team has honed over years of experience: Making The Right Tech Investments For Your Organization: An OPEN MINDS Executive Seminar On Technology Budgeting & Planning. How do executive teams make sure that they can follow this process and avoid the inevitable pitfalls? Our team has identified four keys to success with making new technology work:

Build a team (with a project manager) with clear goals and incentives—No implementation, whether that’s an organizational strategy, a marketing plan, a new service line, or a new tech system, can be successful without a well-trained team that understands the assignment and is working towards the same goals. Start by creating a comprehensive plan with defined roles. The team should be led by a project manager that can provide high-level oversight and aggressive intervention when things go off track. Then, find the right people and give them the tools they need to be successful. Team members who have a high degree of emotional intelligence, who are detail oriented and organized, who work well with others, and who have the skills and value communicating information repeatedly are key. These team members need to be given the time they need to make the implementation successful. This starts with team members committing to the implementation project, with the full support of their mangers and the executive team to redistribute their current work projects to free up time. The team members also need motivation to keep the plan on track. Our team has seen success with incentivizing the team members to keep the plan on track by offering additional vacation time or monetary bonus at the end of the project.

Define the scope of the project and develop a detailed execution plan—When beginning a new technology project most people “don’t know what they don’t know,” so defining the scope of the project at the outset sets you up for success with a realistic plan. This doesn’t mean that things won’t need adjusted later, but this creates the framework for the entire project.

With the broad scope of your project outlined, it’s time for the details. Detailed project management can often be described as “tedious” and unnecessary, and our team has found that people like to focus on the big picture. But when you are dealing with a complex implementation, it’s the everyday tasks that keep a project moving forward and enable you to see right away when things are off track. Designate a team member to manage the work plan and talk to the team leader at the first sign that things are going off course.

Plan for unexpected delays due to unrelated issues and organizational infrastructure—Just because your team is implementing a new technology, it doesn’t mean that the day-to-day operations and challenges can be ignored. For example, there will be other, unrelated technology issues that affect the new implementation, or key team members may leave mid-implementation. These issues are going to happen, no matter how detailed your plans, so make sure you have contingencies from the beginning and time built in to address the roadblocks that come your way.

Designate a leader (and a team) to build a relationship with vendor—The relationship with the vendor needs to be clearly outlined from the beginning. Make sure there is adequate support from the vendor written into the contract, then plan for discovery time with the vendor to assess the needs of the organization and to create the working relationship. Make sure there is a clear and accurate statement of work that applies specifically to your organization, your goals, and your team (no project is the same, and a template approach that has been used with other organizations won’t work for you and your team).

Your tech vendor isn’t going to be in contact with your implementation team—You need one point person who can both own the project in-house, as well as serve as the primary contact point with the vendor. This position must be held by someone who has the skill and available time to effectively work with the vendor and hold them accountable when things go wrong. This person must know what to expect from the vendor going forward, communicate concerns with the implementation, and manage any additional costs that may be incurred working with the payer post-implementation.

For more thoughts on just how critical technology is to every aspect of an organization check out these resources in The OPEN MINDS Circle Library:

  1. Digital Transformations Demand Digital Dexterity
  2. The Three Trends That Are ‘Top Of Mind’ In 2019 For The OPEN MINDS Team
  3. Your Digital Tech Integration Checklist
  4. When New Contracts Mean New Technology: 4 Things To Remember
  5. ‘Productizing’ Services For Competitive Success
  6. Thinking About Partnering With A Tech Start-Up?
  7. Failure To Launch
  8. Moving Out Of Your Comfort Zone: The VBR Technology Continuum
  9. Are You Strategically Interoperable?
  10. Using Virtual Care To Improve Your Value Proposition: Best Practices In Integrating Technology Into Your Community-Based Program

For more, mark your calendar for June 6 for The 2019 OPEN MINDS Consumer Engagement Technologies Summit, featuring Andrea Auxier, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Product Development, New Directions; Chris Thompson, Chief Operating Officer, Monarch; Davis Park, Executive Director, Front Porch Center for Innovation & Wellbeing; Larry Smith, Chief Operating Officer, Grand Lake Mental Health Center; and Neal A. Bowen, Ph.D., Chief Mental Health Officer, Hidalgo Medical Services.

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