A common struggle is happening at hospitals all around the country. Ironically, attempts to roll out powerful communication tools and technologies to improve challenges in health systems are failing because IT and clinical staff speak different languages. These communication failures between clinical technology end users and IT staff are common and can lead to project delays, security concerns, and more, which can negatively affect technology adoption and efficacy.
I recently co-hosted a HealthLeaders webinar with Sarah Cypher, director of nursing, at Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin-Froedtert Hospital. She told a story on the webinar that encapsulates this common communication failure. When she caught a glimpse of a secure messaging technology a fellow leader was using, she knew she was seeing a powerful communication tool and thought it would be a great fit for the Froedtert hospital. When she returned and asked her IT leaders if they would be interested in testing the secure messaging technology, she discovered the mobile application was already in use and all she had to do was download the application to her phone.
This disconnect is all too common. Poor adoption of new technology can run rampant in both large and small organizations. Staff can remain unaware of a tool or a feature until they personally run across it being used “in the wild.”
During the webinar, Sarah Cypher and I shared suggestions on how to establish an IT/clinical powerhouse at your organization to improve staff engagement and ownership of the tools available, prioritize the right projects and adjust timelines to fix repetitive problems at the bedside, and reduce alert fatigue by ensuring the correct messages are delivered to only the intended recipients.
1. Consider the disconnects you have and then get to know one another
Healthcare professionals often have the same reason for working in healthcare: To provide high-quality patient care. Yet, it may often seem that IT staff and clinicians speak very different languages. A nurse doesn’t know what an analyst does versus a solution architect, and an IT person doesn’t know the roles of different types of nurses. It’s important to develop an understanding of who does what and build a relationship with the most appropriate person to ask for guidance. For example:
- Clinical groups know how to provide care at the bedside, know the steps from admission to discharge and follow-up, BUT they often aren’t familiar with the technology under the surface or how it works.
- IT teams know the ins and outs of ever-changing technology resources and how to support them through their integration with existing systems and planned updates, BUT they aren’t on the front lines coordinating care.
According to Cypher and shared on the webinar, an annual survey at Froedtert showed that communication breakdowns between the work units was causing a struggle, leading to project delays, poor end user adoption, security gaps, and more. The clinical and IT groups needed visibility into each other’s worlds to figure out how to move forward.
Making the effort in advance to get to know who you should contact when you have a question or when looking for input on how things work can help when a project or initiative is on the line.
2. Form a collaborative, multidisciplinary team
Create a multi-faceted team to concentrate on existing applications and future technology and how they impact the end-user at the bedside. This team should be charged with looking at problems and solutions from all sides.
This team could include clinicians, IT, telecom, informatics, and patient care staff enterprise-wide, with an overall approach to focus on collaboration, communication, functionality, sustainability, and value.
- Collaborate: Build camaraderie – the relationships between IT and clinicians should be the foundation of the team, especially when it comes to tackling the big issues.
- Communicate: Structure the meetings so everyone knows they can share their input on technology and be heard. Share small group knowledge with the broader team.
- Functionality: Institute a needs assessment step to map out solutions. Consider end users noting key functions, IT identifying problem areas proactively, and testing and communicating new changes before going live.
- Sustainability and value: Projects should meet the budget and demonstrate either increase in value or reduction in cost; the team should regularly evaluate existing tools and get early looks at new tools.
Clinician and IT collaboration comes from establishing open lines of dialogue between the variety of teams in the hospital. Each group needs a seat at the table to ask the right questions to the right people. IT needs to understand the precise workflows to support within a specific unit and end users need to learn about a tool’s full capabilities or give input on a new product.
3. Improve end-user training
Research has demonstrated that up to 90% of new information learned can be lost or forgotten within a week. Organizations should be asking themselves how far in advance of rolling out new technology they provide training. The training is more effective in real time, not months before deployment, and should include hands-on experience and simulation for the greatest level of recall. Do you also go back and retrain staff after they’ve been immersed in their patient care duties and might benefit from a deeper dive into the systems? You may be able to improve their workflows with retraining and focus on system enhancements after they know the basics.
Clinicians are known for their resourcefulness under pressure. The hacks and workarounds that they find to make technology work in the moment could mean that these specialized communication tools aren’t being used to their fullest. Nurse educators can be a great resource to observe firsthand issues, workarounds, or glitches. They can report back to the cross-functional team any gaps in training, specifically in terms of technology. This feedback can also help the team identify knowledge opportunities and improve formal training for leaders, as well as end users. With the multidisciplinary team reviewing this information regularly, you’ll have more opportunities to create a comprehensive and robust training program.
The benefits of strong IT-clinical relationships
After opening the lines of communication between clinicians and IT staff, you may see improvement in several areas:
- Staff have a constructive venue to bring forward their concerns and find solutions
- Increased staff engagement
- Programming consistently completed for all projects
- A system to check for functionality changes prior to pushing a change into production
- Reduction of alert fatigue for clinical staff by delivering the right messages to the right people (specific to secure messaging solution)
Take the opportunity now to address miscommunications and gaps in training in your hospital and you’ll find these growth opportunities lead to better care for everyone: patients, clinicians, IT staff, and beyond.