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Physician Engagement Vital to EMR Implementation

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, April 14, 2011

If the move toward electronic medical records were a race, the Valley Baptist Health System was ready to lap competitors several years ago. The system began looking into electronic medical records in 2008. James E. Eastham, president and CEO of the 800-bed hospital system in Harlingen, TX, was pretty excited about it then, remembering how everyone in the system was getting involved, and he saw physicians as part of the solution.

Within a short period of time, however, plans came to a sudden and costly halt. Physician "resistance" was part of the problem, Eastham recalls.

 "We were excited about going to the EMR and spent a lot of time and resources and a lot of money. We wanted to be early adopters," Eastham says, recalling what turned out to be a humbling EMR transition, which is always a good lesson to everyone, physicians included.

 "We got off to a rocky start. It wasn't easy, although we had the best of intentions," Eastham adds.

At Eastham's hospital system, the initial projected cost to implement its IT system was $18 million. "We knew we had to make it as user-friendly as possible," he recalls. The hospital's internal IT team set up the system and was assigned to bring physicians on board. The system was all set up. Then, little by little, flaws were exposed. The system wasn't as "user-friendly" as initially thought. Physicians had trouble logging on. There was mechanical resistance, and physician resistance.

"It was a big transition and [there were] big expectations," he says. "There was just so much resistance from the medical staff. It wasn't working for them. Using the internal IT staff wasn't working," Eastham says. "We probably had to too many consultants coming in; we didn't have the depth internally. We hired a lot of different consultants and that sent the costs up.

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