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Listen to Staff Fears to Create Effective EMR Communications

Listen to Staff Fears to Create Effective EMR Communications

28 May, 2019

When the announcement goes out about your healthcare organization switching from paper-based records to EMRs, it will spur immediate reactions from staff. The most likely questions they’ll ask are:

  • “How will this affect my job?"
  • "How will this affect patients?”

Both are valid questions, and they're often fueled by fear.

For example, transitioning to a new EMR might cause physicians to worry that their elderly patients won’t know how to navigate a new online system to make appointments. Staff who help check in patients may think their jobs will be replaced by kiosks. Critical care nurses may wonder if learning a new system will slow down patient care.

Fear is natural, but it’s also useful in helping you create effective EMR communications for a number of audiences. I’ve found that simply getting people to talk about what they’re afraid of opens up all sorts of opportunities for you and your team.

If you want to get the staff to open up and tell you why moving from paper to electronic records scares them, I have these following tips to share:

1. Choose the Right Setting for Discussing the EMR Implementation

This may sound touchy-feely, but if you want people to be comfortable talking about what spooks them, then it's important to establish an environment that puts them at ease. This can include:

  • One-on-one conversations: These are along the same lines as the face-to-face meetings you're setting up with different department heads as part of your deep dive into EMRs. Meet the staff member for coffee and have an informal discussion.
  • Focus groups: You might decide to organize focus groups within departments or across departments. Either way, these are a great way to guide discussions with a small group.
  • Questionnaires: This can be formal, like an online questionnaire. Or it can be informal, such as asking managers to hand out a sheet with a list of questions to their staff. Sometimes people feel more at ease answering on paper or online rather than talking in person.
  • Step-by-step "kits": MidMichigan Health created kits to help managers facilitate conversations with staff. Read more about this in my blog post, 9 Insider Tips on How to Communicate Your EMR Implementation to Staff.

2. Ask the Right Questions about the EMR Implementation

Whether you're asking the questions in person or via questionnaire, the types of questions you pose about transitioning from paper to EMRs are important.

You want to get to the heart of their fears about the EMR implementation, and to hear solutions, too. You also want staff to share openly instead of putting them on the defensive.

The following are some questions that will get people talking about fear:

  • What would put you at ease when learning how to use the EMR?  
  • Who would you like to receive training from?
  • How would you like to learn how to use the EMR?
  • What habits do you think you’ll have to change when the EMR goes live?
  • What would you like to ask other medical staff who have implemented an EMR?
  • What is it about switching from paper to EMRs that keeps you up at night?
  • Software can be challenging to learn. When you think about learning this new system, what do you envision?

Their answers will reveal their fears, but they'll also provide a treasure trove of information. For example, you may discover the following:

  • Some groups prefer self-paced online training rather than in-person training.
  • They're concerned the EMR will impact patient care, such as scheduling, wait times, time with the doctor, etc.
  • They may be afraid of new technology.
  • They have a perfectly good process in place and now they have to change it.

Along with their concerns, you may also find out that different groups are excited about the new technology and understand the benefits.

This is all news you can use.

3. Formulate EMR Communications Based on Their Answers

An EMR roll-out is not all roses and sunshine, and it’s OK to acknowledge that in your communications. But once you know what people are afraid of, you can craft communications that deal specifically with their concerns about moving from paper to electronic records and alleviate those worries as well.

Here are some suggestions:

For the C-Suite

Fear: The C-Suite wants to know what you’re doing to communicate the EMR implementation. There is intense pressure on leadership to get the EMR implementation right, because it’s a costly endeavor, and it requires departments to work well together.

Communication: You can offer an outline or a matrix of all the communications you have planned for the EMR implementation. As you build and share the plan, you’ll get additional feedback and buy-in along the way. You can also schedule weekly check-ins with the C-Suite to provide updates.

For Front-Line Staff and Clinicians

Here are a couple of worries you might hear about in your discussions with staff:

Fear #1: Learning the system will be hard and impact patient interactions.


  • Provide quick-tips cards they can refer to when using the software.
  • Publish an FAQs page on your intranet about the EMR.
  • Offer a one-sheet for managers to go over during staff huddles.
  • Offer scripts the staff can practice ahead of time, (e.g., interacting with patients at check-in or on the phone). For example, instead of saying, “I’m sorry this computer is taking so long,” MidMichigan Health trained staff to say, “Thank you for your patience while we learn the new system. This system is going to help us take better care of you.”

Fear #2: The EMR will put me out of work.

Communication: When it comes to talking about layoff concerns, acknowledge those fears but also point out the positive that an EMR brings.

Create a journey map to show employees the stages of change they'll experience during the EMR implementation, so it's clear what the outcome will be.

A journey map may go only so far. If the EMR roll-out means your vendor will install check-in kiosks, for example, emphasize that this will eliminate long lines for check-in and ultimately free up time for more important tasks, such as accompanying patients to examining rooms, improving outreach and scheduling, or assisting with population health management.

Some roles may be affected, however. At MidMichigan Health, the new EMR reduced the need for transcriptionists. Communications with those employees were transparent in how their roles would change and what areas needed comparable skill sets so that they could be redeployed within the organization.

What You'll Learn from Talking About EMR Fears

As you talk to employees, you'll not only get the inside scoop on their processes and how the transition from paper-based records to EMRs  will likely impact them, but you'll also hear their ideas on how to improve workflows, especially if you guide the conversations.

You'll discover there's an added bonus to these discussions about fear. The information you gather from staff can help the C-suite improve the culture of your organization, if that's something they've expressed interest in.

At the very least, it can help you and HR build a case for culture change to present to executives.

Need help communicating your EMR implementation?

Download the white paper: How to Communicate Your EMR Implementation with Staff and Patients

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.