EHR: How do you avoid failing?

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I may have mentioned that I’m a runner. In high school and college I’d run anytime, anywhere. I ran cross country, indoor track, outdoor track, and AAU– kept my hair tied back in a ponytail—I miss the hair.

Those were the days. I was the captain of the cross-country team during my senior year. Behind the school was a long series of hills we used for training, and they were blocked from the coach’s view. I remember that one day I told the team it was okay to walk because we were out of the coach’s sight. I also remember when he took me aside after practice and said he didn’t think it was a good idea for the captain to tell the guys they could walk. He said he couldn’t see me but he sure could hear me. I also remember the time I had my mom dropped me off about half mile away from my girlfriend’s house so I could run, making it look like I ran the entire six miles.

My friends and I ran a few 50 mile races and a couple of marathons. But the strangest race we ever ran was one that lasted 24 hours. The event was a 24 hour mile relay. More than a dozen teams entered the event. Our team had seven runners. The idea behind the race was that each person would run around the track four times with a baton and then hand the baton to the next member of his team. If one member of the team was too tired to take his turn, that team was disqualified. The race started early on a Saturday morning. At the end of 24 hours, my team had run 234 miles. We were proud of what we had done. We were even prouder when we saw the article printed in our local paper the following week that we had set a world record for a seven-man team in a 24-hour relay.

I’d like to believe that the world record had something to do with the fact that we were a great group of runners. However, as I look back on it I tend to believe that the world record had more to do with the obscurity of the event than with the capability of the runners. I don’t know if that same event had been run before we ran it or was ever run afterwards. Who knows, we may still hold the record. I guess what I learned from that event, is that it is easier to be viewed as being excellent at something that isn’t done very often.  Obscure or not, it was a one-time event for us.

Doing something once makes it difficult if not impossible to prepare for the gotchas that lay in wait.  There are healthcare providers who are on their second and third attempt at implementing their electronic health records system (EHR).  This is not the type of event where practice makes perfect, far from it.  If you don’t get it right the first time, you’ve probably already laid waste to your most important stakeholders, the users.  They are difficult enough to get on board the first time.  The second time it becomes much more of a fool me once shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you.

How do you avoid second and third attempts of something as difficult as a full-blown EHR?  For some providers, it’s even worse in that they probably have multiple dissimilar instances of EHR already in place in parts of the hospital, instances that will have to be integrated to the corporate platform.  If you let the clinical side run the project, you run the risk of losing the IT side.  If you let the IT side run the project, you run the risk of losing the clinical side.

Who do you trust to run what could amount to a few hundred million dollar project, bring out the best skills of the team members, and make sure the vendor is operating in your best interest?  It’s a difficult question to answer.  The good news is that if you get it wrong you probably won’t have to worry about doing it over, that will probably be your one-time event.

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