January 4, 2016 Ask Owen

Five New Year’s Resolutions for Physicians and Health IT Pros

It’s that time of the year again: time to finish up the last of the Christmas cookies, regret making plans to attend an overpriced New Year’s Eve event, and scribble down those resolutions you absolutely, positively, definitely promise you won’t break by February.

Healthcare big data analytics

New Year’s is a great time for reflection, and the perfect opportunity to give yourself the little push you might need to make some meaningful changes.

For healthcare professionals, however, time seems to be biggest obstacle in the way of achieving their goals.

Overworked and under pressure, physicians, nurses, health IT professionals, and health information managers barely have a moment to breathe between patient appointments, EHR emergencies, and co-worker demands that stretch them in a hundred different directions.

The healthcare industry is a tough place to be these days, but it’s only going to get tougher in 2016 and beyond.  Taking a few moments to commit to some coping strategies now may pay off in the long run, as meaningful use marches on and MIPS waits in the wings to change everything once again.

As the clock ticks down to midnight tonight, you might want to consider adding these time management and personal job satisfaction boosters to your resolution list.  How many do you think you can stick to?

Make a commitment to seeing the possibilities in my organization’s health IT infrastructure

Believe it or not, EHRs and other health IT tools exist to make life easier for their users, and there are actually ways to succeed with these products.  EHRs can streamline workflows, bring sophisticated big data analytics capabilities to the bedside, and ensure the delivery of high quality care.

But as any provider will tell you, most EHRs and patient management systems aren’t as intuitive, transparent, and user-friendly as they could be.  It takes work to learn them, effort to use them effectively on a daily basis, and a high degree of technical savvy to squeeze the most value out of templates, alerts, and dashboards.

Physicians have often complained that these competencies aren’t within their purview.  They are clinical experts and diagnosticians, not data entry workers.  EHRs are simply bad news, some say: poorly designed, hopelessly complicated, and endlessly distracting from the important parts of patient care.

But for some providers, the technology might not really be at the root of the problem.  Sometimes it’s an attitude issue.  It’s human nature to view change with suspicion, and to approach difficult tasks with skepticism and self-protective dismissal when something doesn’t go quite right the first time.

Providers who square their shoulders and keep an open mind in the face of new IT tools generally have a more positive experience, one study showed.  Nurses who consider optimism to be one of their key personality traits are more likely to embrace mobile EHR use and be ready to try new tools, another said.  Physicians who believe in the promise of technology are more likely to use it effectively, found a third.

We might not all be sunshine and sweetness every moment of every day, but even the most pessimistic provider can make an effort to recognize that there could be good things hidden in those dropdown menus and check boxes.

2016 may be the year to grit your teeth, buckle down to a few lessons, and finally accept the fact that EHRs are here to stay, so you might as well make the most of them.

Volunteer to make improvements or share suggestions when I see problems

And if there are stubborn issues that simply can’t be resolved with a positive attitude and that basic EHR cheat sheet from the HIM department?  It’s your job to let someone know!  Not everyone has the time or inclination to become an EHR optimization super-user, but there should be someone in your organization who does have those skills – and an open office door.

As satisfying as it is to have a good gripe session with your fellow physicians or nurses over coffee in the break room, if you don’t escalate the problem to someone who can fix it, you’re never going to see the changes you need.  Many EHRs are quite a bit more flexible than you might realize, and available customization options may just do the trick.

If you have a suggestion for a workflow change, share it.  If it can’t be resolved in the short term due to system constraints, ask your IT or HIM department for an organizationally approved workaround that sticks to your data governance rules.

And you never know – your complaint might make the list of specifications next time an EHR replacement or upgrade it on the table.  But your executives and technology experts can’t fix something if they don’t know it’s broken.  Make 2016 the year you become part of the solution.

Learn to delegate where I can

Physicians often view themselves as the top of the clinical food chain.  They are highly trained, deeply committed, and very, very good at what they do.  However, as you may have learned in your eighth grade biology class, scientists now view the “food chain” as more of a “food web” – and healthcare has been trending in that same direction for a long time.

Team-based care is the new normal for many healthcare organizations, especially primary care providers working in accountable care organizations or patient-centered medical homes.

Organizations are increasingly employing adjunct providers, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who can perform many of the routine tasks that physicians might not always have time for.

The key to team-based care is relying on your peers to get the job done.  Physicians may be reluctant to delegate patient care tasks if it means spending more time tapping on their keyboards catching up with clinical notes, but the fact is that both the documentation and the flu shots or ear infections have to be taken care of.

Why not let all members of the team contribute to the overall care of the patient?  You might even see your physicians heading home earlier than usual.

Providers who learn how to harness team-based care delivery might be onto something as value-based reimbursement takes over the financial landscape.  Not only are providers who employ NPs and PAs more likely to have advanced EHR technologies on board and more likely to engage in successful patient care coordination tactics, but they are frequently among the highest performing ACOs and PCMHs.

As healthcare organizations stare down a frightening shortage of physicians over the next few years, delegation and cooperation within the clinical care ecosystem are going to become critical to survival in the jungle of value-based care.

Learn to collaborate across my organization

Whether or not you’re not a clinician, collaboration is still the name of the game.  The different branches of any healthcare organizations must work together seamlessly in order to integrate clinical care with quality reporting, financial reimbursement, patient retention and management, and community outreach.

With health information exchange and coordination across the care continuum becoming such an important part of delivering effective population health management, healthcare providers are going to have to learn how to collaborate with external partners, too.

The best way to foster the foundational relationships for these activities is through communication.  If you’re not already talking to your HIM department, data analysts, patient intake division, and IT group on a regular basis, now is a good time to start.

In 2016, sit down with your peers to figure out who needs to meet with whom, and what your objectives are for these routine get-togethers.

Who needs to be at the table?  What information do you need to share?  How will you report on your data in an intelligible, meaningful way?  Can you involve high-level executives to make sure that your efforts are reaching the board room?

And don’t forget to open up frequent opportunities for administrative and clinical staff members to share all those suggestions and complaints they have!

Take some time to self-assess and avoid burnout

At the end of the day, time is still a finite resource, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong spending some of it on yourself.  Approximately half of Americans leave some or all of their vacation days on the table at the end of every year, and that’s a real shame – especially if you’re lucky enough to receive paid time off from your employer.

Healthcare may be a 24/7 occupation that often attracts high-powered, extremely dedicated people who thrive under immense pressure, but with shocking and dire consequences like physician and medical student suicides taking an enormous toll on providers and their families, blocking off a long weekend every now and then to slow down and assess your own wellbeing seems like it should almost be mandatory.

This year, make sure that a little bit of self-care is on your daily task list, and try to be diligent about recognizing the warning signs of stress, depression, and anxiety in yourself and your peers the same way as you would in your patients.

If your organization doesn’t already have a resource for staff members to share their personal concerns or seek help coping with the staggering pressures of patient care, consider establishing one, or connecting with existing organizations that provide services targeted to healthcare professionals.

After all, physicians can’t always heal themselves without a helping hand every once in a while – and there’s no shame in that.

The healthcare landscape is only going to become more complex and difficult to navigate, so embracing a few shifts in perspective now may be the key to preparing for a wild ride in the future.  With these New Year’s tips and support from your colleagues and peers, 2016 has the potential to be a pivotal year for an industry in exciting, terrifying, intriguing, constant flux.  Happy New Year!

This article originally appeared here.

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