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Change the Culture While Transitioning to a New EMR

Change the Culture While Transitioning to a New EMR

30 September, 2019

Moving from paper-based records to EMRs isn't just an IT project. It will transform staff workflows and roles, ultimately changing the way your organization carries out all sorts of business processes, from patient check-ins to records-keeping.

This will become abundantly clear during your conversations with staff, as I discussed in a previous blog post. You'll uncover their processes and hear suggestions about how things might run more efficiently at your healthcare organization.

Some organizations, however, take the bull by the horns. They realize that transitioning from paper to an EMR – or from one EMR to another – is an opportunity to change the culture, and they strategically plan for it. 

MidMichigan Health: One Person, One Record

MidMichigan Health, which has 80 outpatient clinics and more than 7,000 employees, knew that its own EMR implementation was much bigger than a software project. 

The MidMichigan CEO and executive team recognized early on that the implementation was an opportunity to focus on the patient experience by improving patient care while reducing costs. 

"One of our core values is Our Patients Are the Focus of Everything We Do, so it became a guiding principle for EMR design and configuration as well," said Megan Yezak, marketing manager for MidMichigan Health. "Yet it can be hard to keep the patients' needs top of mind when they aren't in the room during decision-making." 

It's a major culture change for providers to give patients real-time, transparent access to test results and doctors' notes or let them schedule their own appointments, she said. It requires providers and staff to give up significant control, so they were understandably nervous..

"We drew upon our existing patient-family advisory councils to validate what functionality they wanted in our patient portal and whether the proposed design was friendly and easy to use, as well as to vet patient-facing processes such as registration or discharge instructions. We then went back to those councils after launch to share what we'd built and to get more feedback for future upgrades."

Another successful change management strategy for MidMichigan was to model its decisions on best practices from other organizations that had already weathered these changes with positive outcomes. 

"Whenever we got stuck on a thorny workflow or configuration decision, we'd turn to our vendor reps in the room, or to our physician champions who had experienced the product at other facilities," Yezak said. "We'd ask, 'How have other health systems handled this and how did it work out for them?' Those real-life examples helped our providers and staff overcome their nervousness and embrace the changes."

Your organization may take the same approach as MidMichigan – or not. But it’s important to note that as you learn what employees are scared of, you’ll discover the underpinnings of culture change during this transition from paper-base records to EMRs.   

This is valuable information you can share with the C-Suite, especially if executives are considering a culture change initiative down the road. It will also give your team a jump start when you’re asked to support it.

Beyond Communications

"Any change of this magnitude, any change where you're transforming people's workflows and roles and your underlying business model requires change management in addition to just traditional communication."
--Megan Yezak, Marketing Manager, MidMichigan Heath

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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.