When Stephanie LeMay’s team first broached the idea of only interacting remotely with vendors due to the pandemic, there was certainly some apprehension. “We didn’t really know how that would feel; if we would have the same type of relationship and get the same value,” she said during a recent panel discussion.
As it turned out, interacting remotely has “worked just as well,” according to LeMay, who serves as Program Manager of Enterprise Data Archiving at Maine Medical Center. In fact, it has proven critical as the 10 hospitals that comprise Maine Health move toward a common platform. With 70 legacy applications that need to be archived, it presents a huge lift — one that organizations might shy away from during a time when onsite meetings have been replaced by Zoom sessions.
The show, however, must go on. Initiatives can only be put on hold for so long; particularly ones that play a critical role in data management. But when the rules of engagement have changed so dramatically, what challenges do leaders from both provider organizations and vendors face in keeping projects on track and maintaining an open line of communication? How can they overcome those hurdles? LeMay addressed these issues during the webinar, along with Joe Beahm, Manager of IT Operations with Sentara Healthcare, and Carrie Smallwood, PMO Director at Mediquant.
One of the key steps is to establish a solid relationship from day one. In Maine Health’s case, the data archiving team had the opportunity to meet representatives from Mediquant in person before Covid-19 hit, which proved extremely beneficial.
“As we were learning the system and preparing to archive, we had conversations that really helped us get to know them,” noted LeMay, adding that some of the interactions happened virtually. As a result, “When we had to make the transition to remote work, we were in a much better position than most.”
It also helped that Mediquant’s staff had experience with remote interactions, noted Smallwood, who believes holding discovery sessions remotely enabled her team to “be respectful of clients’ time and resources,” particularly organizations that are geographically dispersed. What’s important isn’t having everyone in the same room, but rather, “having everyone on the same page so that they know what’s happening with the archive.”
There’s perhaps no better example than Sentara Health, a 12-hospital system spanning Virginia and North Carolina that recently announced a merger with Cone Health. According to Beahm, who also serves as program manager, it can make moving to an integrated system infinitely more difficult for organizations that rely heavily on in-person, on-premise meetings. “Once you’ve gone through the discovery phase, it’s about getting that data transitioned and transferred over to the MediQuant team for the next steps in the process,” which is managed remotely using a secure FTP or encrypted drives, he noted. “And so, these projects lend themselves well to remote work.”
For that to happen, especially when multiple facilities, EHRs, and even EHR instances are involved, as is the case with Sentara, it’s critical that a few core principles are followed.
- Explain things clearly. The key to building trust is in being transparent, and explaining things thoroughly, said Smallwood. “When we started working with Joe and his team, we had to make sure we were giving them everything they needed.” And that meant “helping them understand what our processes would be, and how we were going to help them have a successful implementation, so that when they walked away from a meeting, they had confidence in next steps.”
- Communication is everything. According to Beahm, having weekly calls has helped his team keep its finger on the pulse of individual projects, as well as the overall enterprise strategy. “It allows us to discuss issues that have come up over the course of that week so that we can talk about how we’re going to resolve them.”
- Keep it flexible. LeMay concurred, adding that regular check-ins don’t always have to center around a specific project, particularly if it’s running smoothly. She believes the ability to talk about “foundational or technical things happening behind the scenes” can be just as beneficial. At the same time, if the staff feels the need for a meeting dedicated to one project, leaders are more than willing to bring subject matter experts to hash it out. “I really appreciate that flexibility,” she noted. “It’s been very productive from a time perspective.”
- Look for cues. In the absence of personal interactions, it can be challenging to pick up on body language or facial expressions that might indicate a potential problem. “When you’re interacting remotely, it’s sometimes hard to pick up on those concerns or apprehensions,” said LeMay. To that end, she advised leaders on both the vendor and provider side to have project managers or other individuals on hand who are skilled at picking up on non-verbal cues.
- Be respectful of resources. As health IT shops take on more projects — often at the same time — it’s critical that resources (including individuals) aren’t spread too thin. In this case, Smallwood believes the onus is on vendors to look at timelines carefully. “If someone is working on an Epic upgrade, team members are going to be taken away so they can focus on that. We need to account for that as we’re walking through the timeline. We need to be open and honest and say, ‘that’s going to be a huge drain on your resources. Let’s not put either of these projects at risk.’”
- Conflict resolution. Another significant difference when it comes to virtual interactions is in how conflicts are addressed and resolved. Whereas in the past, vendors could be called on site to help manage a tough situation, it’s just not a reality in today’s world. And so, part of the transition for organizations is to help operational teams adjust to “being able to get on a conference line and make sure we can get all the players on that call so they can speak to the issues they’re having,” said Beahm.
Of course, there are going to be some situations that call for a site visit, such as providing hardware support or hooking a driver into a server. But for the majority of issues, virtual interactions serve as a viable substitute for in-person meetings, and can enable leaders to more efficiently allocate resources.
To view the archive of this webinar – Vendor Vetting & Management in a COVID World (Sponsored by MediQuant) – please click here.