Conventional wisdom dictates that healthcare IT projects shouldn’t schedule a go-live on a holiday weekend due to resource constraints and time off. I was called by another consulting company to see if we could provide some go-live support resources for a hospital that decided to break the mold. Although our focus is largely ambulatory healthcare IT, I work with people who have extensive experience with both inpatient and outpatient systems, so I decided to bite. Especially with it being a holiday situation, the pay being offered was definitely attention-grabbing.
My consultants have been prepping for this for several weeks, viewing recordings of the hospital’s training sessions so they could see exactly how the system was configured and how the users had been trained to use the system. This is important when you’re a third-party go-live resource. Often clients elect not to deploy part of a system or to modify the functionality, which can result in issues when you suggest that the end users access a feature they can’t actually use. Ensuring your go-live contractors understand how the system is actually going to be deployed is a key responsibility for client leaders who decide to outsource their Day 1 support. I’ve seen this overlooked in the past and have learned to insist on it when my team is involved.
The videos were thorough. Nursing staff received about 16 hours of training, including some overlap into the provider workflows so that they could assist with supporting community physicians who may not use the system as frequently as hospitalists and other full-time inpatient providers. Physicians were supposed to attend about eight hours of training, and although they were required to be at both half-day sessions, I received report that there wasn’t a lot of enforcement of participation or a required demonstration of mastery before they would be issued their production passwords.
We were warned to be able to support specific providers more heavily than others and were given their names and specialties and typical rounding times. I haven’t experienced that in the past – usually resources are assigned to a particular nursing unit or another location where provider documentation takes place and are expected to just help people on the fly. This was the first time I had a “hit list” of people who might have issues and I thought it was a great idea.
Since the original consultancy was responsible for the communication with the hospital, they arranged all the logistics for who would be stationed at various parts of the hospital and made sure they had a mix of contract resources at the larger care delivery areas. I’ve seen this split out before, where one subcontractor would cover this floor, another would cover the next, and so on. I thought their mixing of the resources across the various units was a great way to hedge their bets, especially since they knew there may be some resource challenges with it being a holiday weekend.
Still, everyone was a bit nervous going into things, since you never know what a Thanksgiving weekend might bring. Typically, physician offices are closed the Friday after, which shifts volumes to the emergency department. There may be a lull on Saturday and then it usually picks up again as people who were trying to wait until Monday decide they can’t wait anymore.
Of course, there’s also the Holiday Heart Syndrome, which can lead to cardiac irregularities when people overdo it during the Thanksgiving and Christmas eating seasons. Sometimes non-healthcare people are surprised when we talk about these kinds of volumes and trends in planning and people casually throw out their stories of being in the emergency department or working urgent care during major days off.
My best story was working on labor and delivery on Super Bowl Sunday as a resident. Within 45 minutes of the end of the game, we were swamped, with all 19 labor rooms full and overflow into the antepartum unit. Women had remained laboring at home so as to not disturb viewing of the game, then headed right to the hospital as the clock ticked down. Several babies were born within 30 minutes of arriving at the hospital, which is cutting it close if you were planning for epidural anesthesia or using the birthing pool. I had volunteered to work that day since I wasn’t a huge football fan and didn’t have other plans, but made a point to mark my calendar for the next two years so that I didn’t experience that level of back-to-back deliveries again.
Our go-live officially occurred on Friday morning while many people were out doing their Black Friday shopping or spending time with families. There were no elective surgeries scheduled and very few outpatient procedures, providing an overall reduced volume through the hospital. I suspect there had been more than a few “early” discharges for patients who didn’t want to be in the hospital for Thanksgiving, either opting for skilled nursing or home health as a way to leave the wards early. Patients rarely want to spend a holiday in the hospital, so I’m sure the insurance folks were happy. Based on some of the admissions I saw on Friday, there may have been a few people who went home too early, which of course isn’t good for those readmission metrics.
Friday was largely uneventful, with most of the staff being full-time hospital employees and seeming to have been fully present for their training. The community physicians started rounding again on Saturday, but were scattered throughout the morning and early afternoon, making support easy. From an at-the-elbow perspective, we were relatively redundant, but it was good to have multiple people ready to pitch in should the need arise. Assuming budget permits, I’d always rather it be that way then having physicians fighting for someone to help them. Sunday was much of the same, although some different hospitalists rolled in to start seeing patients since their work weeks run Sunday through Sunday. Many of the hospitalists have worked on multiple systems, so this was barely a blip for them.
I headed out Sunday night, leaving a couple of my consultants to help with targeted support for the community physicians on Monday. This is of course where the rubber meets the proverbial road, where providers who may not have been as invested in training as they could have been start arriving on the floors and taking care of patients. The hospital had some great cheat sheets deployed to the workstations both in paper and electronic form, not to mention the go-live contractors, who will be on site in full force Monday through Wednesday wearing their hot pink tee shirts so users can find them. They’ll start tapering off after that, with the hospital planning to support with only internal resources starting Week 3.
I haven’t personally staffed a hospital go-live in some time, so it was a nice experience, and doubly so being at a place where things were over-orchestrated to the point that they were uneventful. Not every go live is like that, for certain. We’ll see if my team has any good stories to share later in the week, but I would love to hear some go-live stories from the trenches.
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Email Dr. Jayne.