E-Patient Update:  Patients And Families Need Reassurance During EMR Rollouts

Posted on March 5, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Sure, EMR rollouts are stressful for hospital staffers and clinicians. No matter how well you plan, there will still be some gritted teeth and slammed keyboards as they get used to the new system. Some will afraid that they can’t get their job done right and live in fear of making a clinical mistake. All that said, if your rollout is gradual and careful, and your training process is thorough, it’s likely everyone will adjust to the new platform quickly.

The thing is, these preparations leave out two very important groups: patients and their families. What’s more, the problem is widespread. As a chronically ill patient, I visit more hospitals than most people, and I’ve never seen any effective communication that educates patients about the role of the EMR in their care. I particularly remember one otherwise excellent hospital that decorated its walls with asinine posters reading “Epic is here!” I can’t see how that could possibly help staff members make the transition, much less patients and family members.

This has got to change. Hospital IT will always be evolving, but when patients are swept up in and confused by these changes, it distorts everything that’s important in healthcare.

Needless fear

A recent experience my mother had exemplifies this problem. She has been keeping watch over my brother Joseph, who is critically ill with the flu and in an induced coma. For the first few days, as my brother gradually improved, my mother felt very satisfied with the way the clinical staff was handling his case.

Not long after, however, someone informed her that the hospital’s new Epic system was being deployed that day. Apparently, nobody explained what that really meant for her or my brother, and she felt that the ICU nurses and doctors were moving a bit more slowly during the first day or two of the launch. I wasn’t there, but I suspect that she was right.

Of course, if things go well, over the long run the Epic system will fade into the background and have no importance to patients and their families. But that day or two when the rollout came and staff seemed a bit preoccupied, it scared the heck out of her.

Keeping patients in the loop

Don’t get me wrong: I understand why this hospital didn’t do more to educate and reassure my mother. I suspect administrators wouldn’t know how to go about it, and probably feel they don’t they have time to do it. The idea is foreign. After all, communicating with patients about enterprise health IT certainly isn’t standard operating procedure.

But isn’t it time to involve patients in the game? I’m not just talking about consumer-facing technology, but any technology that could reasonably affect their experience and sense of comfort with the care they’re receiving.

Yes, educating patients and families about enterprise IT changes that affect them is probably out of most health IT leaders’ comfort zones. But truthfully, that’s no excuse for inaction. Launching an Epic system isn’t inside-baseball process — it affects everyone who visits the hospital. Come on, folks, let’s get this right.