A reality of Healthcare IT is the complexity of projects and the disruption that technology brings to the clinical staff who use it. Those who are on the front lines of patient care rightfully have concerns about how technology affects their delivery of care. Those in IT also care about delivering the best care for patients, but they don’t typically use software in the course of interacting with patients, leaving them (including me) with an incomplete picture of technology in Healthcare.
Clinicians really need to be involved in the process of selecting, configuring, testing, and implementing any technology solution that they will use. The last thing any IT department should do is to make clinical users feel like they have no voice in the process. This is where the Physician Champion comes in. The Physician Champion is a physician who has chosen to take on the role of liaison between a group of clinical users and the technical staff who implements technology. This person usually doesn’t get paid more only for assuming the role, and the role might only be assigned for a period of time while a project is in implementation and training phases.
Let’s say you’re selecting an electronic health records (EHR) system for a medium-sized specialty clinic who has never had an EHR. Let’s take it a step further and assume that this clinic had been owned privately by a group of physicians, but was recently purchased by your organization. Here are some of the challenges that may exist going into the project:
- Many of the doctors have never used any kind of EHR, operating on paper up to this point
- Registration staff are also wary of technology, fearing that some of their jobs will be cut
- Physicians are also wary that their internal documentation on the EHR will get leaked or hacked in some way
- Everyone involved is afraid that the technology will slow them down, or otherwise create a burdensome work environment
This is where a Physician Champion can bring a perspective that nobody else can. The users in our example clinic won’t listen to some IT person with no clinical experience, telling them that everything is going to be ok. For this example, we can assume that the Physician Champion is a technically strong user and proponent of the project who also works for the clinic implementing the software. In some cases it might be a peripherally-connected physician who does not work for the customer, but in most cases, it’s best to have someone on the inside to be your proponent. Here are some of the skills and characteristics that the Physician Champion brings to the table:
- They have already been through at least one technology implementation. They have felt the pain and have come through the other side
- They know the learning curve associated with learning new technology, and can offer tips on how to succeed
- They are able to pull together many project team members- such as trainers and analysts, to help the staff get up to speed
- They have an idea of how software should be configured to meet the needs of users without creating barriers
- They understand regulatory requirements that many technical staff don’t, and can spot potential problems
So, how does the Physician Champion pull this off? Their job is part politician, part project manager, and part technologist, and they are successful by organizing and leading physician user groups, in which the clinical end-users regularly meet to address concerns and request changes. It’s best for this group to be formed at the very beginning stages of a project. During that phase, the Physician Champion will assist IT staff in gathering requirements and assessing workflows to make sure the IT team configures the software to meet the needs of the users. As the project progresses, the user group will hear from the Physician Champion concerning status and will authorize sign-off on the software configuration and timeline. The Physician Champion will continue to be the bridge between the users and the IT team, focusing heavily on clinical components of the software all the way through activation. They will also likely continue in this role in an ongoing maintenance phase.