Oct 06 2017

NHIT Week 2017: How to Advocate for Change in Health IT — and Get Results

During a HIMSS webinar, three health IT decision-makers offered their advice on furthering patient-focused tech initiatives.

Whether dealing with legislators or leaders within your own health organization, pushing for upgrades or moves to more tech-centric medical systems can be a daunting task. Particularly since the healthcare industry is naturally risk averse.

But with an empathetic ear, a clear strategy and a good dose of patience, those hoping to further health IT initiatives across the ecosystem can make it happen. This was the sentiment during Friday’s webinar “Positively Impacting Health IT: Changemakers Leading the Way,” in which three healthcare executives offered their advice in affecting change within health organizations and on the Hill.

Begin Talks Around Health IT Policy with Education

Healthcare technology is trickier to implement in many ways because it can have wide-sweeping impacts on organizations, providers and patients.

“The challenges with health IT are unique because we’re taking care of patients and we have a clinical workflow, and we have to be careful of the impact of that,” said Lisa Gallagher, managing director of health industries advisory, cybersecurity and privacy for PwC.

It often becomes incredibly important for health IT leaders to ensure that legislators and policymakers, among other influencers, understand exactly how changes may impact the entire health ecosystem down to the patient and clinician level, particularly since many of the people who can affect policy sit outside the realm of healthcare.

For this reason, it’s important to approach policymakers within healthcare organizations and legislation with a “crystal clear” and compelling story.

You have to find some way to give individuals a view of consequences,” said Teri Takai, senior advisor at the Center for Digital Government, speaking to the need both to shore up cyberdefenses and implement technologies that can have far-reaching impacts on patients and providers. “That might not be dollars and cents, but there must be a concrete way that people can relate to it.”

When Speaking to Policymakers, Have an Empathetic Ear

Still, it’s important to understand that education is a two-way street.

“Someone that does not work in a hospital, health agency, doctor’s office or clinical care access provider comes from a very, very different world,” said Liz Johnson, CIO at Acute Care Hospitals & Applied Clinical Informatics for Tenet Healthcare.

Johnson recommended speaking to policymakers not simply to educate them, but to understand the world they come from and how both sides can help each other meet a critical need.

Start with getting on the same page with them,” she said.

Have a Specific Ask in Mind

While many elements of technology can help organizations achieve wide-sweeping goals — say, interoperability or better patient care — it’s important to lead with the specifics of what you’re asking for and how policymakers can help you achieve it.

“If we go in with a fruit basket full of every fruit that we know and we are not focused, we are not going to be able to achieve what we want because we are asking for too many things at the same time, and that is not effective,” said Johnson.

On the flip side, an approach that can be very effective is going in with a clear ask.

“Take in a specific ask and make sure they understand why you are asking for it and how they might be able to help you,” said Johnson. “Do you need a law? Do you need a regulatory change? Do you need a specific question answered? What do you need?”

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

While it’s important to understand specific and short-term goals for technologies or policy changes, it’s also important to recognize that policy change is often a slow and arduous process, one that can take years to fully take effect. For this reason, it’s important to be patient, persistent and keep one eye on the long-term goal.

“One of the things that helps with talking about healthcare IT policy is talking about what we want the end-state to be,” said Gallagher.

This can mean asking questions around the far-reaching impacts of policy, including: What is the policy ultimately aiming to do; how long will it take to reach the goal; what resources can be applied; and what are the potential positive or detrimental impacts?

Keep that end-state in mind, whether it’s 10 or 15 years from now. That helps us communicate in terms of policy,” she said.

Check out HealthTech’s NHIT Week coverage on our event page, or follow the conversation at @CDW_Healthcare or with the hashtag #NHITWeek.

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