Healthcare News & Insights

5 factors that derail health IT implementations

IT can do a lot to boost healthcare organizations’ efficiency and improve patient care. But if mistakes are made during implementation, health IT can turn out to be dangerous. 

Poorly planned health IT implementations can have significant impacts on the quality of care and can even increase patient mortality rates, according to a recent study conducted by the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies.

Problems in the early planning and installation phases tend to persist and will keep causing issues later, according to the report.

Researchers conducted 118 interviews at VA hospitals to determine what factors had the biggest influence on the success of health IT implementations:

1. Leadership

Facilities with the most successful implementations were those that had support from management for the project, as well as centralized leadership for the initiative.

Also, successful implementations involved teamwork from different groups, including clinicians, IT, and other staff, and each group took responsibility for their roles and were held accountable. That helped make sure problems were addressed in a cohesive way.

2. Project timelines

Facilities had success when the timelines for implementation were planned appropriately. Many of the successful implementations did not have a hard deadline and were gradually phased in so the organization could get used to the new system.

However, some installations had a deadline mandated by VA headquarters, and in those cases, many staff members reported that the systems still had significant flaws when they had to start using them.

3. Equipment availability and reliability

As other studies have shown, successful health IT implementation requires not only choosing the right software, but also having the IT infrastructure to support it. Some facilities in the study had problems, including not having enough computers for all staff members, lack of bandwidth and Wi-Fi coverage, and buggy computers that crashed during patient visits.

4. Staff training

All of the VA facilities studied had access to training for staff members, but some reported difficulty getting staff to attend, either because they weren’t motivated to do so or they didn’t have enough time to attend sessions.

Most interviewees also pointed out that it was essential for staff to be able to “learn by doing” — that meant that people received both classroom training and one-on-one help while on the job. Also, having help desk support available at all times helped avoid mistakes when staff members began using the system on their own.

5. Changes in work flow and staffing levels

Some of the facilities had problems integrating IT systems into their current work flows. For example, some steps had to be reordered in order to use the technology.

Also, many facilities said they needed additional staff when the systems were first being used, because work slowed down as people were getting acquainted with the new technology. 

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