Why EHR Optimization is Crucial to Empowering Top Talent

Staff engagement, retention, and satisfaction are priority No. 1 for health systems. More effective use of technology—starting with the EHR—is a key remedy.

Electronic health record (EHR) optimization can be a powerful tool for lifting the burden of workforce shortages while alleviating clinicians of mental and physical exhaustion. 

As Nele Jessel, MD, chief medical officer at athenahealth, said during HIMSS22: “The negative view of the EHR as adding to [clinician] misery clearly has not helped. [It] makes it more difficult to see [technology] as an advantage.”

Optimizing the EHR is key to keeping the workforce engaged, resilient, and contributing at the top of their license. It’s also an opportunity to mitigate enterprise risk and support growth.

Health systems face a common barrier to EHR optimization: Positioning IT teams and operations specialists as partners to clinicians.

Such a move requires a major change in relationships between IT and operations specialists and frontline caregivers from that of administrative support to a lead resource in improving durability and the employee experience. For health system CIOs and COOs, it also necessitates a shift in how IT and operations staff are leveraged.

EHR optimization—ensuring that the right features are configured in the EHR to meet today’s business challenges and that staff can leverage the EHR effectively—should play a significant role in bolstering workforce resiliency. 

Yet few health systems deploy EHRs in the most beneficial way for their healthcare teams. Further, in picking and choosing which EHR features to implement, it’s easy for leaders to miss opportunities to strengthen provider efficiency and the quality of services by selecting tools that empower staff to care for their community.  

Interpersonal challenges can also result from a long history of operations, IT, and clinicians working in silos rather than in collaboration to meet patient needs. When a new upgrade is implemented, for example, it’s common to view IT as “the people who pushed this implementation on us.” For CIOs and COOs, there are significant opportunities not just to ensure IT and operations staff feel as though they are part of the clinical and technical team, but also that their team members work together to make impactful changes to caregiver workflows. 

5 Ways Leaders Can Bolster Workforce Resiliency and Employee Experience via EHR Optimization 

1. Focus on opportunities to make a deep impact.

Some health systems have lost more than 20% of their staff in settings where workflows were already inefficient. Driving small-to-moderate gains in efficiency is simply not enough. To improve the employee experience and strengthen resiliency, IT and operations leaders can leverage the EHR to:

  • Overhaul and streamline workflows. This gives time back to staff while enabling better outcomes for patients. It also ensures the right people do the right work at the right time. For example, many frontline surgical staff now feel so beleaguered by the pandemic that they have begun to think, “Every time we ramp up to reschedule elective surgeries, another wave of COVID takes hold.” IT can help by building rules that ensure surgical procedures are rescheduled according to factors such as acuity of the patient, nature of the surgery (elective or emergency), best practices in operating room utilization, and more. These configurations are especially important as COVID-19 caseloads decrease, opening the door to schedule the flood of elective procedures that were previously delayed.
  • Give clinicians the data they need to make informed decisions. Establish more seamless ways for clinicians and staff to access this information at a time when they already feel overwhelmed and helpless. For instance, by incorporating disease-specific questionnaires into the EHR, medical assistants and care navigators can help uncover warning signs of cancer recurrence during a period of remission. Team members can then flag this information for physicians to dig deeper at the point of care.
  • Regularly incorporate changes in regulatory guidance. At the start of the pandemic, when new rules for telehealth reimbursement rapidly took effect, leading organizations ensured IT representatives regularly met with revenue cycle staff to discuss the new guidance. From there, IT teams made updates in the EHR and other systems to reflect these changes and drive clean claims submission.

2. Leverage existing EHR/IT tools fully before bolting on new applications.

This helps streamline tools and processes for a smoother, more intuitive user experience. It also helps avoid scenarios where users spend precious time navigating multiple systems or tools in a single workflow. 

3. Embed IT experts within clinics and departments.

Appoint IT and operations specialists to attend and discuss challenges during physician and departmental meetings. For example, include IT experts in patient safety, clinical governance, and other meetings where standards of practice are being updated. The more involved IT experts are within a department or specialty, the more shared ownership there will be between IT/operations and clinical or administrative teams. Shared ownership, in turn, lends itself to more innovative thinking around how to customize the EHR to the user or the role for greater efficiency and a better experience.

4. Commit to eliminating “request overload.”

When organizations do not streamline workflows, their workstreams become convoluted with new data elements. There will always be new regulatory or compliance requirements, additional types of reports that are needed, and a variety of other types of requests that absorb administrative energy and time. It’s important to balance these requests by committing to lessen the load in other areas. Consider taking two tasks away from every new task or workflow that’s added, for instance. This protects not just clinicians and other frontline staff, but also IT and operations teams.

5. Recruit and empower super-user champions.

Their input can point to ways for frontline staff to more effectively leverage the EHR and make gains in workflows to simultaneously improve productivity and mental stress and burnout. Scheduling time in the work week to identify optimization opportunities and bring together IT and operations team members to collaborate on solutions will result in both quantitative and qualitative improvements in user experience and overall outcomes. 

A proactive approach with a focus on large-scale efficiency gains is key.

With CIOs and COOs working together to optimize use of the EHR and other technologies, they can position their teams to play a vital role in easing the stress of frontline workers and furthering their organization’s mission.

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