Communication and Connection

The Arch Collaborative Summit: A Lesson in Communication

When I scored an invitation to the Arch Collaborative Summit hosted by KLAS, I knew I was in for a treat.

Feeling very much like a lowly editor but still eager to drink in as much knowledge as possible, I sat near the back of the room and prepared to take notes. It didn’t take long for my intimidation to be swept aside by fascination.

The first session I attended, which had originally been slated to cover the topic of change management, took an interesting turn when one attendee noted with some desperation, “It feels impossible to get all of the clinicians the information they need when they’re ready for it. How can we do it?”

From that point on, I struggled to keep up with the stream of responses and follow-up questions about effective communication between healthcare leaders, IT teams, and clinicians. I’d love to share what I learned.

Principles of Effective Communication

IT teams can best get through to physicians by sharing individualized, actionable data and treating physicians like peers.

One attendee of the breakout session made the following statement early in the conversation about communication: “There is no such thing as overcommunication of an important point.” This truth was received with nods and also a general consensus that no organization present in the room was in much danger of overcommunicating. In particular, these healthcare leaders worried about how to help their IT teams effectively and efficiently communicate with their physician peers.

Part of the problem, someone said, was that most physicians don’t think like IT professionals. “Clinicians nearly always prioritize anecdotal information above data,” a participant noted. Other attendees amended this generalization, stipulating that physicians are often persuaded by the right kind of data. Which, of course, makes physicians just like the rest of us. Data that successfully impacts behavior is delivered at the right time and in the right way.

But what is the right kind of data? Data that physicians can personally identify with and use to make impactful changes. “Data for the sake of data will be dismissed,” someone said, “so we have to measure things that are actionable.” Another attendee finished the train of thought by adding, “Support personnel must be armed with specific, individualized data in order to really convince the physicians, who may not have an accurate view of their problems.”

At one point, a comment of a different flavor shifted the room’s focus. “Remember,” a Mayo Clinic representative piped up, “that it’s not communication unless there’s a chance for feedback.” The idea of a two-way relationship enabling communication struck a chord with many of the attendees. “In reality, poor communication is a branch of our problem,” a participant noted. “The root of our problem is that the clinicians don’t see members of the IT team as peers.”

The “us vs. them” mentality that naturally follows this division between IT and clinical staff does more to harm communication between the two parties than almost anything else. As healthcare grows increasingly digital, a division between IT and practitioners is one division we can’t afford.

Successful Applications

One participant explained they use their superusers to communicate EHR best practices to clinical staff. They meet with their superusers quarterly to craft and send out bulletins about upcoming changes to the EHR. They follow up by communicating to managers what big changes deserve focus in the bulletins and give their clinicians a week to read and digest the news before changes go live.

Kaiser Permanente, as one KLAS analyst put it, “has the best communication we’ve seen.” They used a physician for their communication. This doctor went around and told other physicians essentially, “I’m a physician and know what is critical to you. I promise I won’t send you any emails that aren’t critical to you.” They dramatically decreased their emails and increased their email open rate to 80%.

Another common sentiment among the high-satisfaction organizations in attendance was proactive communication. Rather than wait for complaints to come in, many organizations look to quickly disseminate information when unexpected downtime occurs and to overcommunicate on anticipated hiccups in the EHR.

It’s important to remember how human nature impacts EHR optimization. Many organizations have found success by catering to how people think. For example, Fairview tells their clinicians about old-but-underused tips in the same tip sheets that outline new, shiny tips. They find that those old tips, repackaged as the “best new way to work with the EHR” are implemented more often than items in “Don’t forget about X” emails.

Conclusion

Overall, the conference had an air of excitement that I rarely see. I watched many CIOs, CMIOs and others excitedly talking in a way I don’t see at other conferences. The light went on for me when one provider mentioned, “You know, we never do this. We never get together to try and solve problems on this scale.” And I realized that this gathering of leaders may be the trick that finally helps move EHR usability forward. Success that comes best when it’s shared among peers. As one attendee put it, “No wonder this is called the Arch Collaborative.”