EHR: when you are in a hole, stop digging

I was thinking about the time I was teaching rappelling in the Rockies during the summer between my two years of graduate school.  The camp was for high school students of varying backgrounds and their counselors.  On more than one occasion, the person on the other end of my rope would freeze and I would have to talk them down safely.

Late in the day, a thunderstorm broke quickly over the mountain, causing the counselor on my rope to panic.  No amount of talking was going to get her to move either up or down, so it was up to me to rescue her.  I may have mentioned in a prior post that my total amount of rappelling experience was probably no more than a few more hours than hers.  Nonetheless, I went off belay, and within seconds, I was shoulder to shoulder with her.

The sky blackened, and the wind howled, raining bits of rock on us.  I remember that only after I locked her harness to mine did she begin to relax.  She needed to know that she didn’t have to go this alone, and she took comfort knowing someone was willing to help her.

That episode reminds me of a story I heard about a man who fell in a hole—if you know how this turns out, don’t tell the others.  He continues to struggle but can’t find a way out.  A CFO walks by.  When the man pleads for help the CFO writes a check and drops it in the hole.  A while later the vendor walks by—I know this isn’t the real story, but it’s my blog and I’ll tell it any way I want.  Where were we?  The vendor.  The man pleads for help and the vendor pulls out the contract, reads it, circles some obscure item in the fine print, tosses it in the hole, and walks on.

I walk by and see the man in the hole.  “What are you doing there?”  I asked.

“I fell in the hole and don’t know how to get out.”

I felt sorry for the man—I’m naturally empathetic—so I hopped into the hole.  “Why did you do that?  Now we’re both stuck.”

“I’ve been down here before” I said, “And I know the way out.”

I know that’s a little sappy and self-serving.  However, before you decide it’s more comfortable to stay in the hole and hope nobody notices, why not see if there’s someone who knows the way out?

Merely appointing someone to run your EHR effort doesn’t do anything other than add a name to an org char
Kind Regards,

Paul

Paul M. Roemer
Managing Partner, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942
paulroemer@healthcareitstrategy.com

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EHR–One time at band camp…

Like many of you, I see two distinct groups who do not play well in the same sandbox—clinical and IT.  Having clinicians go to the HIT summer camp to pick up a few skills is not the same as pulling a few costly and hairy projects from the bowels of project hell any more than it would be to have an IT executive take an EMT course and then assume that person was qualified to perform surgery—this one time at band camp…

Before I get up on my stool and knock myself off, I know CMIOs and CIOs who have made HIT and EHR very successful.  To them I ask, do not rake me across the Twitter coals as I try to make a point.

There’s knowledge, and then there’s qualified.  Doctors do four years of medical school, they intern, and if they specialize, they throw in a few more years before they become the in-charge.  Years of training and practice before the doctor is allowed to run the show.  Why?  Because what they are about to undertake requires practice, tutelage, and expertise.  Most of the actual learning occurs outside the classroom.

There are those who suggest the skills needed to manage successfully something as foreboding as full-blown EHR can be picked up at HIT Camp.  This does a disservice to seasoned IT professionals.

Most large IT projects fail.  Large EHR projects fail at an even higher rate.  Most clinical procedures do not fail, even the risky ones.

What’s the spin line from this discussion?

  • Rule 1—large EHR projects fail at an alarming rate
  • Rule 2—sending a clinician to band camp probably won’t change rule one

Don’t believe me?  Ask friends in other industries how their implementation of an ERP or manufacturing system went.  There are consulting firms who make a bundle doing disaster recovery work on failed IT projects.  They line the halls like turkey vultures waiting for CIO or project manager carrion.

Back to Rule 1 for a moment.  How can I state that with such assurance?  Never before in the history of before—I know that’s not a proper phrase—has any single industry attempted to use IT to:

  • impart such radical charge (patients, doctors, employees)
  • impart it on a national basis
  • hit moving and poorly defined targets—interoperability, meaningful use, certification
  • take guidance from nobody—there is no EHR decider
  • implement a solution from amongst hundreds of vendors
  • implement a solution with no standards
  • move from an industry at 0.2 to 2.0 business practices
  • concurrently reform the entire industry

Just what should a CMIO be able to do?  What are the standards for a CMIO?  To me, they vary widely.  Is a CMIO considered an officer in the same sense as the other “O’s” in the organization, or is it simply a naming convention?  The answer to that question probably depends on the provider.

Here’s how I think it should work—I realize nobody has asked for my opinion, but this way I’ll at least provide good fodder for those who are so bold as to put their disagreement in writing.

I love the concept of the CMIO and think it is essential to move the provider’s organization from the 0.2 model to the 2.0 model.  Same with the CIO.  However, getting them to pool their efforts on something like EHR is likely to fail as soon as one is placed in a position of authority over the other.  It’s sort of like getting the Americans and French to like one another.

I liken the CMIO’s value-add to that of the person providing the color commentary on ESPN—it adds meaning and relevancy.  The CMIO owns and answers a lot of the “what” and the CIO owns and answers a lot of the “How”.

Still unanswered are the “Why” and “When”.  A resource is needed who can state with assurance, “Follow me.  Tomorrow we will do this because this is what needs to be done tomorrow.”  That skill comes from an experienced Project Management Officer, the PMO.  It does not come from someone who “we think can handle the job.”  Nobody will respect a PMO’s  ability if they do not have the requisite expertise.  EHR needs someone who can state from their experience, “One time at band camp…”   If the EHR can’t lead, or the team is not willing to follow the PMO, you can plan on doing the project over.

How does Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle affect EHR?

One of the great things about social media is its ability to infer attributes of both the readers and the writer.  When you finally meet your virtual pen pal the mind wanders—I thought he sounded taller.

There are those among us who when they picture me writing, see me sitting at my desk, wearing my baby seal-skin slippers, and supping on a bowl of loggerhead turtle soup.

Segue.

According to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (used in physics) certain pairs of physical properties cannot both be determined simultaneously.  That is, the more precisely one property is known, the less precisely the other can be measured. For instance, the next time you are standing by the side of the road, and cars are whizzing by you, try to decipher the speed of the car, and its exact location.  If I remember my math correctly, the first derivative is its velocity, the second, its acceleration.  To know exactly where the car is at a precise moment in time, the car must be stationary—as in not moving.  Thus, to ascertain its position, the position must be fixed.  The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle requires that for someone to determine B, A must cease to be a variable.

The Uncertainty Principle can be represented as something like this:

One can see that as additional properties are tossed into the mix the probability of predicting any particular outcome goes to zero.

Thus follows Roemer’s EHR Uncertainty Principle—if you don’t know where you are going, you arrived a long time ago (A little like Pink Floyd’s, “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”).

The conflicting principles include;

·         Implementation date

·         Completion date

·         Final cost

·         Your functional requirements

·         The vendor’s capabilities

·         Acceptance testing

·         What should the EHR do

·         How do you know when you are done

·         Should you meet Meaningful Use

·         Will you receive the ARRA money

Here is the point of the allegory.  The chances of a physician group or hospital knowing the answer to all but one of the above principles are zero.

Permit me to throw a wrench into the loggerhead soup and let you know that not having the answers to all but one of the variables is okay.  That is the way projects work.

Since most of you implementing EHR have not ‘been-there, done-that’ with respect to implementing EHR, it is reasonable to expect there are more unknowns than knowns (spell-check indicates that it is not a word, but I know you are keeping up with me).

So, how can you use Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to your advantage?  It is actually rather simple.  Do not allow your implementation to be guided by the unknowns.

·         Do not set an arbitrary budget for something you have never purchased

·         Do not set an arbitrary implementation deadline

Do what you must to make sure you implement an ERH that does what you need it to do.  Do not let yourself be constrained by principles whose only possible effect will be to derail your project.

If you are willing to take that risk, the other principles become moot (the correct terms is moot, not mute—look it up—sorry about the preposition).

If all else fails, consider getting a pair of the seal-skin slippers.

Paul M. Roemer

Managing Partner, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335

+1 (484) 885-6942

paulroemer@healthcareitstrategy.com

My profiles: 

My blog: Healthcare IT Strategy How to Revive a Failed EHR Implementation

A little IT knowledge can kill you

It almost killed me.  Curious?  I lived in Colorado for a dozen years, and spent almost every other weekend in the mountains, fly-fishing, skiing, climbing, and painting—any excuse would do.  Colorado has 54 peaks above fourteen thousand feet.  In my twelve years I climbed most of them.  Some solo; some with friends.

I owned almost everything North Face made, including a down sleeping bag with thermal protection which would have made me sweat on the moon and a one-burner propane stove which cranked out enough BTUs to smelt aluminum.  Two of my friends and felt we needed a bigger challenge than what Colorado’s peaks offered.

The dot in the photo is me.

We decided on a pair of volcanoes in Mexico, Pico de Orizaba and Popocatépetl—both over 18,000’.  We trained hard because we knew that people who didn’t died.  We trained with ropes, ice axes, carabineers, and crampons.  One day in early May we arrived at the base ofPico de Orizaba.  The man who drove us to the mountain made us sign the log book, that way they’d know who they were burying.  After a six hour ride from a town with less people than a K-Mart, we were deposited at a cinder-block hut—four walls, tin roof, dirt floor.  Base camp.

Before the sun rose we were hiking up ankle-deep volcanic ash; gritty, coarse, black sand.  The sand soon turned in to thigh-deep snow.  We took turns breaking trail, stopping only long enough to refill our water bottles by hand-pumping glacier melt from the runoff in the bottom of cobalt blue ice caverns carved from solid glacier.

Ice Cave we used to collect drinking water

Throughout the trek we passed crude wooden crosses that were stuck into the ash and snow, serving as grim reminders of those who’d gone before us.

We knew the signs of pulmonary edema, but were reluctant to acknowledge them when we first saw it.  It was about one the following morning when we decided to make camp.  My roommate was having trouble concentrating, and his speech was slightly slurred.  When we asked him if he was ill, he responded much like one would expect an alcoholic would respond when asked if he was okay to drive.  “I’m fine.”

We were at about 16,000’.  The slope seemed to be at about forty-five degrees.  The sheet of ice upon which we stood glistened from what little light the stars emitted.  I removed my tent pole from my pack and placed it on the ground—we were going to camp for the night.  We watched in awe as the pole gained speed and hurtled down the side of the volcano, quickly lost in the darkness.

Realizing my friend wasn’t doing well, and that I was now feeling somewhat punkish, we made the difficult decision to turn back.  The only survival for edema is to lose enough altitude until you reach an altitude where there is enough air pressure to force the oxygen into the blood.  Eighteen hours of climbing.  Pitch black.  And then it started to snow.  Any other time the view would have been awesome.  We headed down, me carrying my pack and his, he with our friend.

We arrived at the block hut around four that morning.  By then I was no longer making any sense.  My roommate had recovered, but I had become somewhat delirious—at least that’s what they told me later.  Not knowing right from left or wrong, I was determined to keep walking.  The two of them took turns laying on me to prevent me from sneaking out during the night.

A little knowledge almost killed us.  The scary thing is that we knew what we were doing.  We had trained at altitude, had a plan, worked the plan.  The plan shifted.  Sometimes shift happens.

It happens more with IT.  Much more.  Do you know what the chances are of any IT project ‘working’ that costs more than$7-10 million?  (Working is defined as having a positive ROI, a project that was delivered on time, withing the budget, and delivered the expected results.) (IT includes workflows, change management, training, etc.)  Two in ten.  Twenty percent.  That’s below the Mendosa Line—non baseball fans may have to look up that one.  Remember the last industry conference you attended?  Was it about EHR?  Pretty scary knowing most of them were planning for a failure.

Put your best efforts, your brightest people on planning the EHR.  Make them plan it, then make them plan it again, and then make them defend it, every piece of it.  If they don’t convince you they can do it in their sleep, you had better redo it.  Do they know what they’re planning to do?  Do they know why they’re planning to do it that way?  If they haven’t done it before, this may not be the best time for them to practice.  EHR is not a good project for stretching someone’s capabilities.

Planning is difficult to defend twice during the life of a large program.  First, at the beginning of the program when the C-Suite is in a hurry to see people doing things and signing contracts.  The second time planning is difficult to defend is the moment the C-I-Told-You-Sos are calling for your head for having such an inadequate plan.

How would I approach planning an EHR program for a hospital?  If we started in September, my goal would be to;

  • Have a dedicated and qualified PMO in place in four weeks
  • Begin defining workflows and requirements by October (I’m curious.  For those who have done or are doing this piece, how many FTE’s participated?  I ask because i think chances are good that your number is far fewer than I think would be needed.)
  • Issue a requirements document by mid-January.
  • Be able to recommend a vendor by the end of March.

That seems like a lot of time.  There are plenty who will tell you they can do ‘it’ quicker.  Good for them.  The best factor in your favor right now is time.

Reread this in a year and see where you are…

…See, I told you so.  Anyone want to go hiking?

Paul M. Roemer
Managing Partner, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942
paulroemer@healthcareitstrategy.com

“How many days ago was Sunday?”

The photo comes from my Robert Redford look alike period.

Do you ever awaken wishing you were all you used to think you were before you figured out you weren’t?  Me either.  I’m someone who has these kind of days when it’s best to keep me away from shiny objects.

During college, I spent several summers volunteering for a group called Young Life at their camps throughout the US.  Silver Cliff was one of their camps in the mountains of Colorado.  Each week we’d take in a few hundred high school kids from throughout the US, and give them the opportunity to do things and challenge themselves in new ways; everything from riding horses to rappelling.

The prior summer I was the head wrangler at one of their camps—I had never ridden a horse prior to being placed in charge of the riding program.  This summer is was the person running the rappelling program.  Needless to say, I had never done that before either.

We received a day’s worth of instruction before we were turned loose on the kids.  One of the first things we had to learn was that the ropes and harness, if properly secured to the carabineers and figure eight, would actually keep you from falling to your death.  The first test was jumping from a platform way up in a tree while on belay.  After a few moments of white-knuckle panic, I stepped over the edge and was belayed safely to the ground.

From there, we scouted a place for the rappel, and found two suitable cliffs, each with about a hundred foot vertical drop.  Watching my first rappel must have reminded others of what it would have been like watching a chimp learn how to use tools for the first time.  After several tentative descents, I was able to make it safely to the bottom in a single jump.

Each day we’d run a few dozen kids through the course, ninety-nine percent of whom had never rappelled, or ever wanted to rappel.  To convince them that it was safe and that they could complete it, I would instruct them in the technique as I hung backwards over the chalk face of the limestone cliff.

Each day we’d have one or two kids who wanted nothing to do with my little course.  Occasionally, while on belay, one of them would freeze half way down the cliff, and I’d have to belay down and rescue them.

Once or twice I’d have an attractive female counselor on belay, her knowing that I was the only thing keeping her from being a Rorschach stain on the rocks below.  Scared, and looking for a boost of confidence, “She’d ask, how long have you been doing this?” I’d look at my watch and ask her how many days ago was Sunday.  I viewed it as an opportunity to have a little fun with her—sort of like turning to your friend in the checkout line in 7-eleven and saying loud enough for others to hear, “I thought we agreed we weren’t going to use our guns.” I also hoped maybe even having to go on a heroic rescue.

How long have you been doing this?  That’s seems like a fair question to ask of anyone in a clinical situation.  It’s more easily answered when you are in someone’s office and are facing multiple framed and matted attestations of their skills.  Seen any good EHR or HIT certificates on the walls of the people entrusted with the execution of the EHR endowment?  Me either.  I have a cardiologist and he has all sorts of paper hanging from his wall.  Helps to convince me he knows his stuff.  Now, if I were to pretend to be a cardiologist—I’ve been thinking of going to night school—I’d expect people would expect to see my bona fides.

Shouldn’t the same logic apply to spending millions of EHR dollars?  Imagine this discussion.

“What do you do?”

“I’m buying something for the hospital I’ve never bought.”

“Why?”

“The feds say we’ve got to have it.”

“Oh.  What’s it do?”

“Nobody really knows.”

“How long have you been doing this?”

“How many days ago was Sunday?”

“What’s it cost?”

“Somewhere between this much,” he stretches out his arms, “And this much,” stretching them further.

“Do the doctors want this?”

“Some do.  A lot don’t.”

“How will you know when you’re done if you got it right?”

“Beats me.”

“Sounds like fun,” she said, trying to fetter a laugh.

Sounds like fun to me too.

saintPaul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942
paulroemer@healthcareitstrategy.com

Why do you think projects fail?

Again on the project failure?  Yes.  Why?  Trying to head it off at the pass.  Source, The Bull Report.

Failure_Cause_Survey.264

Fifty-seven percent of failures are due to bad communication.  What’s that?  Poor grammar?  No.  Not enough meetings?  Doubtful.

It’s about PMO.  A hired gun?  Perhaps.  An advocate who will manage the vendor on your behalf.  What’s the rest of the hired gun’s job description?  All the blue stuff in the graph..

The good news is that being a bad dresser will not hurt the project.

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942
paulroemer@healthcareitstrategy.com

My profiles: LinkedInWordPressTwitterMeetupBlog RSS
Contact me: Google Talk/paulroemer Skype/paulroemer Google Wave/paulroemer

The Services We Offer

What we have here is a failure to communicate, and unfortunately the failure is mine.

It has been a week of learning.  According to one of the thought leaders in healthcare, whom I’ve known for more than a year, he does not understand what services my firm offers hospitals, and he thinks others may have the same problem.

He suggested it would be helpful to spell it out, service by service.  So here goes.

Program Management:

We work with hospital CIOs and COOs as their advocate by serving as the program management officer (PMO).  We define functional requirements, select software, and manage IT applications vendors for enterprise applications like EHR, CRM, and ERP.

Operational Efficiency:

We work with the hospital C-suite to identify, define, and implement a unique set of business processes and business rules, eliminating duplicated processes and those which do not add value.  The output is a single set of best practices processes and rules.

Change Management:

Enterprise applications will alter business processes and impact most employees and patients.  Without a rigorous change management effort, the impact of the application on the hospital’s processes and people will be a disaster.  We figure out what must change, how it will change, and how to pull it off.

Patient Relationship Management (PEM):

This is the hospital equivalent of Customer Relationship Management (CRM).  On a PEM project we define the requirements, select an application vendor, define the processes, and manage the project to completion.

Please let me know if you need help with any of these.