Written by Emily Cheslock

Hospital information systems are an integral part of providing quality health care. There are specific steps hospitals can take when launching a new hospital information system to ensure that it's the best it can be.

A hospital information system is critical to the operational success of a hospital or health system. Every second of every day, hospital information systems are transmitting important messages along many integrated pathways in a synchronized operation. Hospital information systems collect, store and manage massive amounts of clinical, financial and operational data to maintain a robust infrastructure. As rapidly as technology is changing and evolving, hospitals and health systems need to be on the cutting edge of information technology.

Mike Rudomin
Rudomin

"There is simply no way to manage the clinical, financial and legal complexities of a modern hospital without an up-to-date information system," said Mike Rudomin, vice president of supply chain operations at Vizient, a leading supply chain improvement company located in Irving, Tex. "There are thousands of daily transactions that run through a hospital every day. So, the system is crucial for supporting the standardization and quality across the wide spectrum of information that runs through a hospital, and even across an entire health system network, every day."

Vizient works to strengthen the financial and operational performance of hospitals in Texas and nationwide. A leading supply chain improvement company dedicated to strengthening financial and operational performance, Vizient's work includes consulting and advising clients on the upkeep of existing hospital information systems and launching new hospital information systems.

Accepting Disruption

Anytime an existing information system is replaced with a "new and improved" version, there are known disruptions to normal operations and a learning curve for users. "The biggest piece of advice I would give to a hospital looking to implement a new information system is to start with understanding that the hospital is about to undergo a massive effort. For quite a period, it will be a disrupting and consuming presence," said Rudomin.

A hospital information system touches every piece of data and every transaction that occurs within a hospital. Every department needs to be ready for change and willing to be flexible during the transition to a new, updated system. Working with an experienced consultant to create a transition can help ensure that everyone across the system is prepared and ready for the switch. Hospitals should also keep in mind that the planning process can sometimes take more than a year.

"It's critical to have a solid planning process. The process involves everything from setting up the appropriate teams by discipline to appointing an appropriate management hierarchy and establishing a command station for implementation," said Rudomin.

The importance of assigning the right people to manage disputes should not be understated. There will be instances with a new system where employees must look at things differently and do things in a different way than they had previously. Those changes can cause friction and pushback, and it's crucial to have a team with diplomatic problem solvers in place to come to the best solutions.

"This team of arbiters needs to understand multiple sides of an issue and must have members with clinical, operational and business backgrounds," said Rudomin.

Implementing a new hospital information system shouldn't be looked at as an opportunity to streamline a hospital's current operations but as an opportunity to evolve and reinvent the ways that a hospital is doing certain functions. "You don't simply automate the process. You look to enhance the process. Now is the time to give every operation a fresh set of eyes and reevaluate the way your hospital is doing things," said Rudomin.

Be Prepared for Setbacks

Hospital administrators should prepare for unforeseen issues and additional system tweaks. They also need to be on the lookout for the often-used but unofficial "workarounds" that staff may develop on their own. Hospital staff may be tired and perhaps frustrated once they use the system and find certain aspects of it to be more complicated than what they were used to - administrators should be sensitive to this.

"Once you pull the switch, you'll suddenly realize all the things aren't working exactly the way you thought they'd work," said Rudomin. "It's crucial to have a 24/7 command post with key hospital decision-makers and representatives from both the implementation team and system vendor to be ready to fix any issues."

STEPS FOR SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION OF A NEW HOSPITAL INFORMATION SYSTEM

  1. Set up a command post: Plan to staff a command post 24/7 for several weeks following launch with key hospital decision-makers and representatives from both the implementation team and the system vendor.

  2. Ensure you have a "Plan B": You have patients to take care of and having system glitches is not an acceptable excuse for delaying or compromising the quality of care. Learn - and practice - downtime procedures so everyone is well-versed in automatically transitioning into manual "Plan B" in the event of a system disruption.

  3. Be prepared to change: Some staff and departments will likely need to learn a different way of accomplishing specific familiar tasks and this change may not always be welcome. Take advantage of any available resources to help smooth the way.

  4. Plan for schedule gaps during training: When your employees are in system training, they will not be available to perform their regular duties. While this is unavoidable, planning and flexible scheduling can help mitigate some of these difficulties. Where necessary, particularly on the clinical side, extra staff or temporary personnel can help ease this burden.

  5. Coordinate staff training: If the period of time between system training and actual implementation is significant, employees are likely to forget much of what they initially learned but haven't had the chance to actually use. If possible, schedule departmental trainings in a phased manner to coincide with the timing of the launch.

  6. Revisit daily operations three months post-launch: Schedule a 90-day check-in with affected departments once team members have had the chance to manage day-to-day clinical and business operations in the new system. Identify any unforeseen system or operational changes, provide a refresher on "best practices" and chart next steps.