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Why major health IT implementations depend on communication

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- According to the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), a Project Manager spends more than 90 percent of her time communicating — and that’s significant in terms of managing one’s workload priorities.

To examine communications we must understand the types of methods that are most commonly used:

Formal communications encompasses legal notices, project documents, official situations, presentations, and if the message is complex

Internal includes all contained communications within a project

External communication is conversing formally with board members, investors, customers, business partners, etc.

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Vertical is communicating from the top down or vice versa within the organization

Horizontal is communicating with peers

Official communication involves information on public record, such as press releases, client newsletters and annual reports

Unofficial communications are not on the record

Written and oral are communications either written or spoken

Verbal and non-verbal entails body language and inflection of voices

In my experience, little time is dedicated to creating a communications strategy to support large-scale EHR and health IT implementation projects; many have no communications plans in place or a team member dedicated to spearheading the communications engaging all project stakeholders.

An enterprise-wide EHR or health IT implementation unquestionably affects the majority of a healthcare organization’s employees. Because of the widespread changes it brings, it is important to assign a resource responsible for communicating imperative fluctuations and milestones to everyone, beginning with the top leaders all the way down to the end users — the people actually providing patient care services.

Organizations typically offer staff training, but it is usually carried out close to the project’s completion, just as the migration from one system to another occurs.

If you are managing a large-scale system deployment, two questions to ask are:

1. Are your end users engaged from the system implementation’s beginning to ensure that the new workflow and functionality design meet their daily work life needs?”

2. Do they fully understand how the new system will affect their daily work long term?

Throughout the project’s operating cycle, communication is the key to its successful management. So communicate, communicate, communicate!

Organizations that successfully survive a system implementation notably have assigned early on the task of communications to a select team or individual.

Moreover, developing a communications plan from the onset is a must do. Items to consider for the plan’s matrix include: identifying the employees most affected and needing to receive regular communications, defining what type of information will be communicated, establishing the timeline of information deliverables in a consistent manner, and determining the most effective communications method.

The communications matrix will differentiate content by profession (e.g., physicians versus other clinical or administrative staff end users). Multiple communications and their delivery methods must also be consistent to support the implementation’s go-live success and ongoing user adoption. Methods can vary from town hall meetings, electronic or paper newsletters, emails, letters, social media networks to story boards.

As organizations and projects become global, communication and culture can play an even larger role in project success. Accordingly, the project manager must be granted access to various tools to communicate with stakeholders throughout the organization, regardless of geographic location. In addition to arranging the conventional in-person meeting, the project manager can leverage those tools to coordinate mass e-mails and text messages, conference calls and video conferencing, for example.

It’s very important for the project manager to clarify formal and informal communication as today’s diverse technologies can make this a challenge. Oftentimes mixed messages and tone are misperceived in email communication.

To further emphasize this point, a highly important step in implementation project planning is the creation of the communications plan. Equally critical is identifying the right person to manage it. As those of us who work in Project Management like to say, “Create the plan and work the plan.”

Elements of a project communication plan

Project success is determined in part by how well the project is received by those impacted by it. Setting the stage for developing the communication plan focuses on garnering consensus with all team members and key stakeholders on the project’s communication objectives.

Based on my experience, I typically recommend incorporating the following objectives into the communication plans of our clients:

• Educate stakeholders on project context and how the project benefits will relate to them

• Share information about project decisions, progress and outcomes

• Manage expectations of those physicians and employees who are impacted by the project

• Provide messages that respond directly to information needs of identified stakeholders as well as those stakeholders that had not been initially identified

• Initiate and sustain project momentum

• Endorse the project and build a positive project image within the client organization

By Kirsti M. Walent, PMP, is the National Epic Solution Director at CTG Health Solutions. Kirsti is a management and consulting professional with more than 30 years’ experience in the healthcare information technology industry including 10-plus years focusing on project management. She has taught multiple project management prep courses via classroom and virtual, and specializes in communications. 










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