Education is crucial in making the most of new technologies

Effective, ongoing initiatives get clinicians to the point where they don’t have to think about how to use the technology; it becomes truly reflexive.

Healthcare technologies need to return value to clinicians, not add to their administrative burden.

Last week, I attended the American Medical Group Association’s Innovation, Quality & Leadership Conference in Dallas,where I spoke at a session about emerging technologies that could impact healthcare.

I’ll give you the same disclaimer I gave to the AMGA audience: I speak to experts and pull together what they tell me into stories. I learn from them and relay what they tell me.

To prepare for my presentation, I solicited advice from our readers as well as a couple of trusted experts in the field. Based on their input, one message that I shared at AMGA was to avoid lathering on even more gee-whiz technology without first conducting a meaningful assessment of its true value.

Thomas Selva, MD, CMIO, MU Health Care

"Automating bad processes is why our bedside nurses are looking for a different job in nursing.”

As one reader told me: “We are increasingly adding new technologies. You can’t treat being overweight by loosening your belt.”

Yes, there are exciting new technologies that healthcare organizations will be turning to in the years ahead as healthcare transforms. But choosing the right technologies requires careful assessments.

True success with technology

Technology implementations have had a checkered past. One study suggests that 50 percent of electronic health record systems either fail or fail to be properly utilized.

Tech projects can fail as a result of unintended consequences, project delays, cost overruns or coming up short of achieving their goals. Often, organizations just plain quit on tech projects before they’re even completed. And that’s a colossal waste of time and money.

Many IT products are heavily marketed and promoted, often riding waves of hype. Healthcare organizations may be tempted to buy the latest tech out of fear of missing out on the next big thing. Instead, they should primarily focus on acquiring only those technologies that can help clinicians efficiently provide the highest quality of care while relieving some of their administrative burdens.

Healthcare’s most precious commodity

In the wake of the extraordinary demands of coping with a pandemic, many clinicians are stressed out, discouraged and disillusioned with their careers.

In fact, 58 percent of physicians have feelings of burnout, according to a recent study from the American Medical Association.

Thomas Selva, MD, CMIO at MU Health Care, notes that automating bad processes “is why our bedside nurses, within three years, are looking for a different job in nursing.”

Too often, clinicians view technology as adding to their workloads. To change this perception, healthcare organizations must demonstrate how the latest tech can improve doctors’ and nurses’ efficiency and effectiveness, enabling them to focus on personal interactions with patients and not cumbersome navigation of the latest application or device.

We need education, not demos

In my presentation, I questioned whether we’ve really fully optimized the technologies that are already in place. Equally important is optimizing the education provided to those who will use new technology every day.

I compared training clinicians in new applications (an added-on “foreign” language for many of them) to my experiences in teaching English as a second language.

ESL teachers often don’t make allowances for students’ learning styles. Sometimes, they don’t build carefully on previous knowledge (“scaffolding education”). When that happens, learners are likely to “fossilize” – learn just enough to get by, using what’s commonly known as “survival English.”

There are striking parallels to healthcare IT training here. Education is not a one-time, beginning of implementation event, but something that needs to be ongoing to ensure clinicians take full advantage of technologies’ capabilities.

The ultimate goal should be automaticity – the ability to think in the “language” and have understanding. In technology, effective training gets learners to the point where they don’t have to think about how to use the technology; it becomes a reflex. That way, they can focus their attention on interaction with patients.

Bill Spooner, former CIO at Sharp Healthcare, offers another important piece of advice: “Once the IT product is implemented and a few months have passed, we should always go back and see how well it's working. There's almost always a need for optimization, whether it's refinement of process, tweaking of the software itself or just re-education. We need to work with the users and determine their needs.”

So what do you think? I encourage you to reach out to share your insights.

Please email Fred Bazzoli with your feedback.

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