We are surrounded by technology.
This hasn’t always been the case in the health care industry—we can be a bit more “deliberate,” if you will—but the pandemic notably accelerated the pace at which organizations invested in new technology. Rock Health’s 2021 year-end report found that digital health funding among U.S.-based startups reached a record $29.1 billion in 2021, which almost doubled the number ($14.9 billion) from 2020. The growth is almost off the charts.
We’ve certainly come a long way since the beginning of the EHR push in 2009, but do you find yourself wondering if we’re missing the forest for the trees? In theory, technology is great, but the significant caveat is that it needs to be implemented and maintained thoughtfully and with full awareness of the often-frenetic environment in which it operates. As it turns out, that’s hard—but not impossible—to do.
I’m a practicing ENT physician and have a not-insignificant amount of experience in EHR strategy and consulting and software implementation. When it comes to technology, I’ve been both the end-user and the one deploying to end-users, helping them integrate the new technology into varied workflows.
As the end-user, I’ve seen core pieces of (often million-dollar) technology launched with shoddy communication plans and rudimentary vendor-sponsored training. Rather than walking through critical use cases or using a scenario-based approach, the training was a brief overview that seemed about as useful as teaching someone to drive a car by giving them a tour of the dashboard. That’s a recipe for disaster.
So what works? In my experience, succeeding with tech adoption in health care is a combination of having clear and concerted buy-in from the top, combined with meaningful involvement from people like you and me—physicians who are asked to use the technology every day.
When it comes to things like steering committees, rules, and governance for an organization’s technology stack, I understand very well the inclination to shy away from adding more to your plate. But because physicians are going to be impacted by these systems, rules, and expectations one way or another, I think these projects are very important opportunities to lend your voice. Physicians have unique perspectives and will be able to bring their real-time experience to bear in these conversations. It’s also important that these nuances be understood before starting these types of large-scale projects. After all, making adjustments in the planning phase is much easier than trying to switch something up after technology decisions have already been made and implemented.
Of the many organizations I’ve done deployments with, the most successful ones have strong physician champions—trusted leaders who can help to map out the project and get buy-in from their colleagues along the way. The voice of a physician is really invaluable.
Vendors listen, too. I’m not asking you to be the Technology Complainer-in-Chief, but adding your constructive feedback to the mix can bring potential features and fixes to critical mass among the many requests vendors are fielding. It’s not a stretch to say you can play an active role in improving technology that your colleagues—and perhaps many other medical professionals—use daily.
Many well-meaning physicians are just frustrated with technology. Maybe it’s cumbersome. Maybe it saps attention that should be reserved for patients. Maybe it lives in a silo despite having critical information that has to be referenced constantly. Why can’t it all change right now?
My advice: Be strategic with how you’re thinking about technology, but also be patient. Continue to push and advocate, but understand that you’re not in a vacuum here. You’re part of larger systems—both your hospital system and the hospital’s technology system. Changes are felt by many, so change has to be thoughtfully considered.
And look, I know many physicians are already maxed out. Technology can make that worse. As soon as you introduce what will be perceived as new obstacles to moving from A to Z, all they’re going to think is, “I can’t do what I need to do. I’m exhausted and I’m behind. And now you’re introducing seemingly arbitrary expectations and steps with new tech, and you’re just sitting there with your arms crossed, shaking your head at me?” That further exacerbates this feeling of a loss of autonomy, a feeling that you’re not appreciated, a feeling that there’s no respect for efforts. Look at all of the accepted definitions of burnout, and it makes it worse.
But I’m not here to burn you out. I’m here to say that your voice is valuable, and there are very real ways to positively influence the strategy, adoption, and ongoing maintenance for technology you depend on as a physician. Here are six things that have helped me, as a physician and business executive, to be heard and to be a part of positive technology change:
- Identify the right person or team you should go to for EHR and/or digital health care communication questions—it’s not always easy to know who to talk with.
- Ask for access to or 1:1 help with setting up specific functions.
- Take opportunities to speak to representatives from your software vendors.
- Offer to participate in governance committees related to the EHR, virtual care, or digital health care communications.
- Share tips and tricks you’ve learned with other members of your care teams.
- When it comes to communication, know the lay of the land. For outbound, ask for an explanation of which forms of digital communication need to be used in which situations (i.e., text, email, etc.). For inbound, ask for an explanation of the different ways a patient might reach you or your practice during the day and find out who is tasked with monitoring those messages.
Technology isn’t going away, and we’ll all be better served if the people who most directly feel its impact are some of the most prominent voices in discussions about what works, what doesn’t work, and everything in between. Rather than resigning ourselves to defeat at the hand of burnout, let’s try “burning in” to avoid settling for less.
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