It’s safe to say at this point that there is no aspect of our collective lives that has not been impacted by COVID-19. Schools are closed and work methods as we know them have drastically changed. We’re being ordered to stay in our homes by local officials and droves of people are overwhelming the healthcare system across the globe with this novel strain of the virus. No industry seems to be untouched, but healthcare is certainly taking the brunt. While those on the frontlines fight to stay well and equipped to deal with this medical crisis, administrators and health infrastructure staff are scrambling to provide timely support and still execute on planned initiatives to benefit providers and patients. It is still possible to follow through with planned healthcare IT projects, but it’s worth acknowledging how Epic implementation efforts could be impacted by COVID-19...and to plan accordingly.
#1 - Virtual Epic Training
Gathering in classrooms is no longer allowed for our nation’s children, and it definitely isn’t going to fly for “voluntary” gatherings like Epic training. Leveraging Digital Learning for EHR training is an option here, and the good news is that it’s an incredibly effective method. Even if the plan was an Epic upgrade throughout a given department, it’s worth pressing forward to gain those optimized workflows and resolve any known barriers to utilizing the tool well. Modifying the training to accommodate those not necessarily used to virtual training will help reduce friction, remembering that much of the country is having to do the same thing.
A few tips for making virtual Epic training simple and effective:
- Acknowledge what is going on, thank attendees for their service, then dive into the content (we’re not robots, after all)
- Focus on the most important concepts first
- Try to keep the training sessions brief, offering multiple topic-specific sessions if needed (versus one giant lesson)
- Use a simple, user-friendly tool that doesn’t require login or a special app
Admittedly, gaining focus is going to be difficult given the current circumstances for the demographic attending training. Accept that, press forward and focus on what is most critical to make Epic implementation as successful as it can be given the variables.
#2 - Healthcare IT Stakeholders’ Availability for Implementation Efforts
Speaking of focus, one of the challenges that Epic implementation projects face during the Coronavirus crisis is healthcare IT stakeholders being pulled in many different directions to support an uptick in telemedicine, stressed technology solutions given patient volume and potentially even infection with the virus, reducing available support even further. When key stakeholders in an EHR upgrade or roll-out project aren’t able to show up -- mentally or physically -- for planning meetings and execution, the resulting Go-Live will suffer. Be it from subpar requirements, an overly taxed implementation team, lack of coordination with key vendors to support integrations or many other potential whammies, best efforts can’t overcome a lack of buy-in to drive participation and adoption.
Postponing Healthcare IT Initiatives?
If progress on implementing Epic is already in the works, it may serve the organization best to continue as planned, albeit on perhaps a stretched timeline to accommodate expected delays. However, kicking off new healthcare IT initiatives during COVID-19 might be very challenging. Administrators and the project team need to consider the expected benefits or ROIs of the efforts, and decide if they’re feasible in the current climate. In some cases, they may be even more critical and therefore absolutely worth pressing through organizational challenges. This is a decision that should be led with transparency and a firm grasp of what’s viable at the moment, realizing that progress is still possible with some creativity and patience.
#3 - EHR Implementation Budget
The reality is that spoken-for funds for health system initiatives are pretty vulnerable at this point. Unprecedented and unexpected needs are going to shift things around rapidly, and no initiative is really safe. Instead of balking at shifting budgets, it’s worth stepping back to get creative and consider what can be done on a microbudget. Is a forthcoming Epic optimization project going to make addressing patient volume and unique Coronavirus coding needs, for example, much more efficient? If so, make your case to health system administrators as a worthwhile investment sooner than later. Are there aspects of the implementation that can move forward -- such as lengthy vendor development to support integrations or new standards -- until other resources and funds are in a more stable place?
Again, acknowledging the reality of the current healthcare crisis, respecting the priority of certain line items on the budget, and coming to the table with innovative solutions for proceeding on Epic integration efforts with a modified plan may very well save the healthcare IT efforts and still provide value to those bravely on the frontlines.