You've talked to department heads, frontline staff and patients about your healthcare organization's transition from paper-based records to EMRs.
You've listened to their fears, and you've got a good idea on what you need to communicate, such as EMR training schedules and launch dates for staff and patients.
So the next question is, how will you communicate this information?
I'm sure you're familiar with well-known internal and external communications tactics, from email blasts and newsletters to intranet microsites and posters.
10 Ways to Communicate
You’ll have to communicate all sorts of information about your EMR implementation, such as training dates, impacts on patients, go-live dates, etc.
You can get the word out in a number of ways to both internal and external audiences via:
2. Intranet microsite
3. Letters to physicians
4. Newsletter (print and digital)
5. Posters and flyers
6. Social media
7. Table tents
9. Texts, robo calls
10. Flat-screen monitors in lobbies or waiting rooms
So let’s take a look at 9 different approaches that healthcare organizations use to share information with folks who need it and boost morale at the same time.
1. Create an EMR Communications Roadmap or Matrix
Anytime you’re working on a big communications campaigns, you must be prepared to show or share a roadmap with the rest of the team.
Moving from paper-based records to EMRs fits this situation perfectly. However, you don’t have to create anything fancy or purchase a new tool or application. An Excel spreadsheet works just fine to show dates, communications deliverables, and audiences.
Department heads, the EMR implementation committee, and the C-suite will all have access to it, preferably on a shared drive, so they can comment or provide feedback.
You’ll create this matrix based on meetings and conversations with department heads and staff, so you’ll have a good idea of what channels work best for them.
For example, your EMR communications roadmap might include draft, approval, and launch or publication dates of:
- Emails you plan to send to physician or nurses about upcoming EMR training
- Intranet pages about the EMR
- Posters for coffee stations and hallways
- Internal training videos
- Table tents for the cafeteria
- Patient messaging on hospital lobby flat screens
The matrix shows everyone involved in the EMR implementation what you’ve got planned and that you’re keeping things on track. Its function is not only to inform but to calm people's nerves and demonstrate that you’ve got this. It instills their confidence in your team.
2. Publish a Scorecard or EMR implementation Milestones
You can accomplish two important things when you create a scorecard or publish milestones about your organization's transition to EMRs:
- You show the progress the organization is making towards a very big goal
- You boost morale by indicating you’re all in this together.
For example, you might focus on EMR training, with the scorecard showing the following:
- Training dates
- Percentage of departments that have completed the training
Primarily an internal communications tactic, a scorecard or milestone marker reinforces the EMR implementation process so employees can see progress and understand that they’re not alone in this initiative.
And you can make it fun so it’s engaging. Share photos of teams that complete the training, with captions such as “Test #1 is done. 99 more to go!” Track progress in the form of a thermometer on your homepage or a colorful chart.
Scorecards or milestones also serve to highlight accomplishments in other departments that aren’t on the front lines. Show what IT is accomplishing, or finance or the medical records department.
Don't forget next steps….
A good rule of thumb with every milestone announcement is to tell your audience what's next. They're not living and breathing the details of the EMR implementation like you are. Always tell them what's coming up. It will reassure them and keep some of their questions at bay.
3. Provide Step-by-Step "Kits" to Facilitate EMR Communications
MidMichigan Health designed special kits to help managers and physicians lead their staff through interactive discussions. The kits included a:
- Facilitator’s guide
- Fun, inspiring videos
- Journey map to help visualize the changes ahead
For managers who were already adept communicators, the kits served as a guide.
But for those who were less confident communicators, the kits laid out a step-by-step plan for how much time to allot, how to use the video and other materials, and what questions to ask in order to generate group dialogue and engagement, rather than just giving a one-way presentation.
And the communications team didn't just hand out kits. They brought all 300 of their top leaders in a room together for a kick-off meeting, used trained facilitators at tables that sat 10 managers each, and demonstrated how to use the kits.
"Our goal was to help managers become facilitators; not just messengers,” said Megan Yezak, MidMichigan Health's marketing manager. “So they wouldn’t tell their work groups how this is going to be. Instead, they would ask them questions that would guide their staff to their own insights and uncover obstacles and opportunities."
Even non-clinical groups such as housekeeping and maintenance were part of this exercise, since they, too, were affected by the rollout. For example, the EMR uses electronic bed boards to notify housekeeping which rooms need servicing. In other words, no one is immune to technological advances.
If you decide to follow suit and create something similar for your own organization, you'll discover that the kits will also be highly effective in getting people to talk about their fears. And that's a good thing, as I mentioned in a previous blog post.
4. Share 3 Positive EMR Achievements in Meetings and Daily Communications
Let’s be honest. Moving from paper to electronic records is tough. Your team and everyone else who’s cascading communications may feel saturated by EMR news, from training announcements to phased roll-outs and countdowns to “go live.” And it’s easy for staff to be caught up in the negative impact of an EMR implementation, especially on workflow changes.
That’s why it’s important to remind everyone about what’s going right and focus on the positive.
In fact, research shows the impact of positive psychology and workplace resilience in the face of any stressful situation that requires change management. That research inspired MidMichigan’s own Three Good Things approach.
Now, as communicators, we’re often seen as putting an upbeat spin on even the worst news. But your healthcare organization is going through an EMR implementation for good reasons: improved patient care, time savings and efficiency.
So make it a habit to share three good things about the EMR implementation before every EMR-related meeting. Share these same three things in communications about these meetings. Ask the managers using your kits to do the same at their EMR meetings with staff.
Most of these meetings are scheduled to problem-solve or discuss the latest issue, but don’t forget to point out what you’ve already achieved. Highlighting the positive helps ensure that what has been accomplished will speak louder than the negative.
To learn more about positive psychology in the workplace, read the presentation Healthcare Worker Resilience: The Intersection of Quality, Stress and Fatigue by J. Bryan Sexton, PhD, an associate professor and director of the Patient Safety Center for the Duke University Health System. You might also take a look at Martin E.P. Seligman's book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being.
5. Shoot a Fun Video about EMR Training
Not every organization has the culture to support the type of video I’m going to talk about, but it’s worth mentioning because humor and vulnerability go a long way in terms of staff morale.
For example, Mary Washington Healthcare in Virginia created a video using a song from the popular Broadway musical, Hamilton!, to address their EMR transition and introduce the EMR implementation committee to the staff.
The hospital is named after George Washington's mother, so the connection to Hamilton! was a great fit. Dressed in period costume, the CEO and the rest of the team sang about the impact of outdated systems and how the new platform would improve workflows and patient care.
In all, the Mary Washington communications team produced three videos: one to kick off the implementation, one right before launch, and another to thank the EMR vendor. If it sounds a little silly, watch the video. It's sophisticated, professional, and downright fun!
Mary Washington Healthcare isn't the only organization to use video. MidMichigan Health chose a space theme for their EMR implementation, and shot a spaceship video to introduce their new EMR to patients. Here's how they prefaced it:
MidMichigan Health is on a journey to new frontiers in patient centered care. Our mission? To fully shift our orbit around patients and their families. One Person, One Record is pivotal to our success. The countdown to lift-off has begun. We need everyone on board. So fasten your seatbelts. Get ready to rocket care forward. One Person, One Record, one giant step to patient-centered care.
Your video doesn’t have to go to extremes. After all, not everyone has the budget for a clever take on a Broadway musical. Instead, you could try a funny video depicting the medical director teaching a C-suite executive how to use the EMR.
Humorous videos with real employees dealing with the new EMR show vulnerability and empathy during a long, complicated process. They engage the staff and get everyone talking about the implementation, the ups and the downs. They also serve to remind everyone that the benefits are ultimately improved patient care.
6. Publish New EMR Words and Titles
As you work with the EMR implementation committee, you and other members will create new roles and titles for those who take on EMR assignments.
Physicians or others who become EMR advocates or experts may be described as Super Users or Subject Matter Experts. Another title I've seen used is Clinical Applications Supervisor, who works with employees and the vendor. This person helps develop, test and improve the EMR's system design.
You can keep staff up to date on these titles and definitions by including a sidebar in your newsletter, a page on your intranet, or whichever communication tool you are using.
Defining these roles and promoting them in your EMR communications can help prepare employees for the change to come, give them insight into who else they may be working with and in what capacity, and set clear expectations. It also provides transparency into the process.
7. Recruit Physician Champions for Your EMR Transition
Physicians are incredibly busy people, and it can be hard to get them to attend EMR implementation meetings or provide feedback. That's why it's important to recruit physician champions — such as department chairs for obstetrics or the coronary care unit — to help spread the word and get everyone else on board.
Before it recruited physician champions, MidMichigan Health had a 20% participation rate from physicians at EMR meetings. Once on board, though, physician champions communicated a simple message to their peers: We know you're busy, but this EMR is coming whether we like or not. We have a limited window of time when we have a say on how this EMR will be implemented, so let’s take this opportunity and give our feedback.
Megan Yezak, MidMichigan's marketing manager, said, "Our physician champions knew which of their peers were already on board versus those who might struggle and need more support. They also knew how to explain the impact in terms of their own specialty-specific workflows. And sometimes the only practical way to reach providers is to buttonhole them in the hallway and talk to them one on one."
The tactic proved highly effective. Physician participation at EMR meetings reached 80%.
8. Highlight EMR Benefits in Patient Communications
The communications you send to patients about the transition from paper to EMRs won’t be as extensive as those you send to staff, but they’re equally important. These communications will focus not only on the shift to a patient portal, but also the transformation the EMR brings to patient care.
In your emails and mailings to patients that explain to them how to use the patient portal, be sure to share the benefits the EMR offers, including the following:
- All their medical records, including test results, in one place
- Email communications with their physicians
- Online appointment scheduling
- Easy check-in at doctor’s offices throughout your organization, e.g., fewer forms to fill out
- Telemedicine, if that’s part of your EMR roll-out
The EMR implementation provides many conveniences and time savers for patients, which most of them will embrace. For those who don’t use technology, your organization will most likely still offer options for them via phone or mail, such as making appointments or talking to their doctors, so don’t forget to point that out.
9. Set Up Feedback Mechanisms for Staff and Patients
As you know, communications is a two-way street. The best communicators do more than disseminate information. They also listen to feedback. Or course, you’ll get feedback in your meetings with department heads and other staff members.
But it’s also wise to set up an email address for anyone on the staff to provide feedback on the EMR implementation. This will help you and the EMR implementation committee track issues, identify gaps, and make improvements to the EMR.
Receiving feedback will tip you off to bigger issues you might not otherwise hear about, and these can be addressed in future communications.
You’ll also want to set up a feedback mechanism for patients. If they’re having trouble with the patient portal, they need a way to communicate that by email as well as by phone.
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About the author: Stephanie Helline is a strategic healthcare communicator who honed her craft at Kaiser Permanente on a number of large campaigns. As the owner of Strategic Health, an agency specializing in healthcare communications, she helps healthcare teams create strategic campaigns that focus on big-picture goals. She and her team facilitate the discovery of clients' "pains and gains," and use what they learn to guide the insights and strategies to improve patient care and services.