If healthcare leaders want physicians to adopt a solution, there’s a very simple question they must be prepared to answer: What’s in it for me?
In other words, how is it going to help me do my job — which, of course is to provide quality patient care — in a better, more efficient way? The answer, of course, must be more than an explanation. Physicians need to see firsthand that the technology in question can, in fact, have a positive impact.
At Inspira Health, a 3-hospital system based in Southern New Jersey, that’s precisely what Tom Pacek’s team did. Rather than spend their energy telling physicians that leveraging an app for self-scheduling could improve access and patient satisfaction, without hindering workflow, they piloted it in cooperation with the vendor, and were able to produce positive outcomes.
“You have to work with doctors,” said Pacek, who recently spoke with healthsystemCIO about how his team was able to pivot quickly when Covid hit, and the strategy they used to educate users. He also spoke about the hackathon that helped spur ideas, and what it takes to lead through a crisis.
- The most effective way to gain buy-in among physicians? “Tell them what’s in it for them” – and show them. By implementing online scheduling, Inspira was able to “streamline workflows” and improve patient satisfaction.
- By leveraging a hackathon, Inspira was able to “generate ideas and get people excited about innovation and about helping to improve operations throughout the organization.”
- One of the key outcomes of the Innovation Center has been Inspira’s partnership with Thais, which has significantly helped improve chronic care management during the pandemic. “It was a great example of innovation at its finest.”
- For healthcare leaders, one thing that wasn’t as challenging during Covid was getting their teams motivated. “We were rallying around something that was in our wheelhouse.”
- Perhaps the most important aspect of leading through a crisis is the ability to show empathy and support for the staff, and recognize that they’re going above and beyond.
Q&A with Inspira Health CIO Tom Pacek, Part 2 [Click here to view Part 1]
Gamble: When you’re dealing with so many personalities, I imagine it gets tricky. There’s a level of diplomacy required. Is it something leaders have to develop over time?
Pacek: It is. You have to work with physicians; you have to explain to them what’s in it for them. Of course, it’s all about the patient. We’re not here if we don’t have patients.
First, it’s about maintaining volume with their practices and helping them to meet the patient where the patient wants to be met. Physicians may want patients to come to the office, but patients may prefer to be seen virtually — we can accommodate both of those now through the online scheduling. Physicians were able to see it and experience it working. We’ve taken it to the next step.
Enabling online scheduling
Now, we’re doing a pilot with one of our larger primary care practices where the access center manages phone calls and uses the online scheduling function on behalf of the patients. And so if patients don’t want to or are not able to do the scheduling, the access center does it for them.
Previously, those calls would get transferred to the physician’s office, to someone at the front desk who is also trying to help the patients in front of them. Having the access center handle those calls has helped streamline workflows in the office, and that’s been a real positive. It’s been reflected in our Press Ganey scores from January through the end of August, where we have seen increases for ease of access, ease of scheduling and access availability. So it has definitely had a positive impact on our patient population. And when we share that information with physicians, we get smiles and we get cooperation. They realize that there’s a benefit to them and their patients.
Gamble: You mentioned the Innovation Center earlier. Can you talk a little more about how that is structured, and how your team is able to benefit from it?
Pacek: It’s part of Inspira. Back in 2019, our CEO obtained approval from the Board to put $1 million aside to initiate some projects in the innovation center. The Inspira Health Innovation Center was established to collaborate, brainstorm and prototype ideas from the staff and our physician population on ways to improve access to care and create a better patient experience. The goal is to generate ideas among people who work here — what are the challenges you see every day throughout the organization? If you have any ideas on what we can do to improve, bring them forward. Let us know, and we can vet it through our committee.
One thing we didn’t want to do is put a lot of governance around it. We were really trying to generate ideas and get people excited about innovation and about helping to improve operations throughout the organization, in both the ambulatory and acute environments. We started with a hackathon that we did over a weekend. A lot of people donated their time to help make it possible, including some from Rowan University, which is where our Innovation Center is housed.
We had a lot of participation from staff, students, and faculty at Rowan as part of the health hack. We awarded $20,000 to the three winning teams; one of them actually created a company that’s focused on patient-centered transportation.
We continue to work with early adopters; one of which is Thais, the chronic disease management company I talked about earlier. They were new to the U.S.; we actually helped them with their cybersecurity and with their business plans, and we were their first customer for chronic care management. It’s been a great collaboration.
Things did get slower during Covid on the innovation side. We focused a lot of our attention on the Thais partnership, and that helped us immensely.
Gamble: I like the idea of a hackathon. That seems like a good approach to encourage innovation.
Pacek: Absolutely. People didn’t understand what we meant when we said, ‘Come to us with your ideas.’ And so the hackathon was also a tutorial for them to learn, how do we innovate? How can we get creative, and what does that look like? How do you work collaboratively? You don’t have to be the one with the idea; you can work on a team. That’s what we did. We had teams of people get together and talk, and then they’d create groups with those who had similar ideas. It was a great experience, and I hope we can do it again soon. Hopefully we can have an in-person event in 2022 once we get through this next round of surges.
We’re really grateful for the Innovation Center. That’s how we found Thais, which really helped us during Covid. It was a great example of innovation at its finest.
Gamble: That leads into the next topic, which is leading through crisis. This was something we had never experienced before. What are your thoughts on what it takes to lead through something so difficult and unpredictable?
Pacek: It was challenging, and it was stressful. But in some ways it was easier in the healthcare world because we were rallying around something that was in our wheelhouse. It’s a disease. It’s taking care of patients. Although things were happening at a magnitude we had never seen before, but it was easier to rally the teams. I have nurses on my staff, and I had to ask them to go back to patient care for 8 weeks because our hospitals were so busy. And they graciously did it.
As a leader, I had to support them and their personal situations. If they needed time off, I had to actively get involved and work with them. I had to show empathy to them, and show support for their needs and their family’s needs. We all rallied around that. Their co-workers picked up some of the work they left behind that still needed to be done.
We all supported each other, and we still do. We’re at the Covid tents — both administration and staff — greeting people and making sure they get registered appropriately for vaccines. It takes everybody working together.
Gamble: We’ve heard a lot about burnout among clinicians, and rightfully so. But what about the IS staff? Did you have concerns with burnout or exhaustion because they were so taxed as well?
Pacek: I did. I think having the ability to work remotely helps people. Of course, it can still lead to burnout, because sometimes when you’re working from home you don’t know when to turn it off.
The concept was new to us. I think people appreciated the fact that they could contribute remotely and were willing to put in extra hours and do whatever it took, whether it was jumping on a call or helping to schedule patients, because they could do it remotely. By doing that, they were staying safe, and they were able to provide a much-needed service to help their coworkers. But burnout definitely does exist; it’s hard.
As leaders, it’s important to show support. Go into the hospitals and do rounds. Recognize the staff for the job they’re doing — not just on projects, but day-to-day work. They’re giving their time and sacrificing so much so that physicians and nurses can do their jobs, and you need to acknowledge that. That’s something that this organization does really well.
Gamble: That’s great. Well, I want to thank you so much for your time, and for talking about the incredible work Inspira is doing. Hopefully we can catch up again soon, or even say hello at a NJ HIMSS event.
Pacek: That would be nice.
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