Healthcare News & Insights

7 project management keys for health IT implementations

Health IT projects are often huge undertakings that can be easily derailed. Here are some project management steps providers can take during their next health IT implementation. 

IT installations are difficult to manage, and it’s often hard to make sure the investment pays off. That’s one of the messages in a recent study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The study looked at 75 IT systems installed in government agencies, for a total cost of $4.6 billion. The gist of the report: Not enough has been done to make sure those IT projects have met their goals and that the investments have been worth it.

That news is especially worth noting for healthcare organizations, as many have been undertaking implementation of electronic health record (EHR) systems and other significant health IT projects.

Here are some critical project management keys to keep in mind that can help make sure health IT projects meet their intended outcomes:

1. Hear user requirements early on

Organizations can have a number of reasons for implementing a new health IT system — lower costs, government incentives, etc. — but the bad will outweigh the good if the system doesn’t do what end users need it to do. Healthcare organizations should find out what doctors, nurses, staff members and other users need before the project is too deep into the planning stages.

2. Actively engage with stakeholders

In the case of health IT, the stakeholders include doctors, administrative staff and anyone else that will use the system. Representatives from those groups should be involved in viewing product demos, reading vendor contracts and other steps of the project, and they must be kept up to date on the project’s status and any problems that come up along the way.

3. Put the right person in charge

Every project needs an effective project manager. This overseer should be someone with a track record of delivering projects on time and on budget, and with the right interpersonal and communication skills needed to coordinate with various stakeholder groups. Also, according to one survey, it’s important to have a clinician lead or co-lead EHR implementations and other health IT projects. One of the main benefits: It helps get buy-in from other medical professionals and makes sure the project stays focused on end users.

4. Get the proper budget

Sometimes, an IT project fails because the organization ends up not having enough money to complete it. That’s why it’s critical to get as accurate an estimate of the necessary budget as possible, including all hidden costs, and make sure the funds are available. For the latter point, getting top leadership in the organization committed to the project is a must.

5. Have the right health IT staff

Many organizations are seeing a shortage of qualified health IT pros — however, having the right tech people involved during a big project is critical. If full-time hires are unnecessary or difficult to find, organizations can turn to consultants and temporary staffing services.

6. Reduce size and complexity

Another big factor that can contribute to an IT project’s failure is its length — the longer a project lasts the greater the chance for obstacles to pile on top of each other and become insurmountable. That’s why it’s often effective to break big projects into smaller steps. It’s especially helpful if each mini-project has a business benefit of its own.

7. Plan for the unpredictable

Obviously, organizations can’t predict every challenge that could come up, but many IT projects are derailed by incidents that are rare, but common enough that they could have been planned for in some capacity. Also, plans should be flexible so they can be adjusted as situations change.

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