I’m hearing a lot these days about the challenges that leaders and health care systems are having in ensuring that progress with technology is matched with improvement in the quality and safety of the care we offer patients. For example, while studies indicate that technology generally increases safety by reducing medication errors, decreasing adverse drug reactions, and improving practice guideline compliance, I hear fears that not all technology designed to improve safety outcomes is worth the investment. Also, when I talk with people in health care about burnout and the absence of joy in work, they often express frustrations with the electronic health record (EHR). They describe how maddening it is to spend time fighting with a computer instead of addressing what matters most to their patients.
It seems that the time is right for health care executives to build closer links between their information technology (IT) strategies and their quality strategies. Here are four things health care leaders can do to ensure their organization’s IT efforts improve patient care and promote joy in work:
- Understand need — It’s the first rule of quality improvement. Health care administrators, clinical leaders, and technology leaders must meet and decide together what they want and need from technology solutions. The question of how to get from the current state to the future state requires dialogue and cooperation.
- Ask the right questions — Any time a new technology solution is proposed ask, “How will this help us to deliver better care for the people we serve? How will this change affect the work of clinicians and the care of patients?”
- Demonstrate humility and curiosity — If you don’t know where your IT department is located, go find it – it’s often in the basement! Interacting meaningfully on topics related to technology is a great opportunity for many of us to practice humble inquiry skills. The IT department won’t assume that most executives are experts in their territory, so there’s little risk in asking for clarification if you don’t fully understand the issues under discussion.
- Narrow the gap between IT and clinical teams — I suspect that health system IT departments mainly hear complaints from clinicians. Some may feel somewhat detached from the clinical purpose of their organization, but there are ways to help them feel more connected. Have IT representatives periodically join clinical huddles. Invite the IT team to the point of care so they can see how their work ensures clinicians have ready access to patient records or helps medical wards, operating rooms, and emergency departments run smoothly and safely.
Some of the biggest challenges health care leaders face today — including enhancing the patient experience and improving and maintaining IT — would benefit from stronger relationships and better communication with colleagues in IT. All IT team members need clear line of sight between what they do and their health care system’s true purpose. Clinical leaders need a deeper appreciation of the constraints their IT colleagues face as they address complex demands every day. Finding ways to work together more effectively will improve care for patients and bring increased work satisfaction for all.
Editor’s note: Look for more from IHI President and CEO Derek Feeley (@DerekFeeleyIHI) on leadership, innovation, and improvement in health and health care in the “Line of Sight” series on the IHI blog.