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January 31, 2018 Readers Write 6 Comments

How IT Professionals Can Work More Effectively with Physicians
By Stephen Fiehler


Stephen Fiehler is IS service leader for imaging and interventional services at Stanford Children’s Health in Palo Alto, CA.

Be Agile – Work Around Their Schedule

Stop inviting orthopedic surgeons to your order set review meeting from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday at your offsite IT department building. That is not a good use of their time. And good luck getting them to log in and pay attention to your GoToMeeting from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. on Thursday.

Some electrophysiologists I work with are only available at the hospital at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesdays or Thursdays. I get there at 6:45 a.m. and have everything ready to go when they walk in the room so we can get through as much content as possible. The best time to meet with an invasive cardiologist is in the control room between cases. When I need to validate new content with them, I wear scrubs and work from a desk in the control room for half a day to get a cumulative 30 minutes of their time. This way, if cases run late, they can get home to their family at 8:00 p.m. instead of 9:00.

As long as I have my laptop, my charger, and an Internet connection, I can be productive from any location that works best for the physicians. Their time is more valuable than mine. The more time I take them away from patient care is less revenue for the hospital and fewer kids getting the medical treatment they need.

There are physicians that have the bandwidth to spend more time with us on our projects, but it is imperative that we not expect it from them.

Be Brief – Keep Your Emails Short and Concise

Review your emails to physicians before sending them. You could probably communicate as much, if not more, with half the words.

When I was at Epic, one of the veteran members on the Radiant team had a message on his Intranet profile instructing co-workers to make emails short enough that they could be completely read from the Inbox screen of the iOS Mail app. Any longer, and you could assume he would not read or reply.

If an email has to be long, bold or highlight your main points or questions. Most physicians have little time to read their email. Show them you value their time and increase the likelihood that they will read or reply to your message by keeping it concise. Writing shorter emails helps you waste less of your own time as well.

Also, use screenshots with pointers or highlighted icons when appropriate. They might not know what a “toolbar menu item” or a “print group” is.

Be Service-Minded – Do Not Forget IT is a Service Department

The biggest mistake a healthcare IT professional can make is forgetting that we are a service department. The providers, staff, and operations are our customers. It is our job to provide them with the tools they need to deliver the best patient care possible. That is why the IT department exists.

Given the complexity of our applications, integration, and infrastructure, it is tempting to forget that we are not the main show. Whether we like it or not, we are the trainers, equipment managers, and first-down marker holders, whereas the providers are the quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs.

By focusing on providing the best service possible, you will implement better products and produce happier customers. At the end of the day, we want to be effective and to have a positive impact on the organization. The best way to do that is through being service-minded.

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Currently there are "6 comments" on this Article:

  1. Good advice, and frankly useful in nearly any business context.

    I choose to read this as “how to be more helpful and effective” despite the presence of the sentence “Their time is more valuable than mine.” I find the latter phrasing troubling regardless of it’s literal truth or untruth.

    The physicians I respect never bring attitude to the table. Everyone is a professional and we operate at our best when we behave that way. It’s about respect, not about who gets the larger paycheque.

    Yes, IT is a service. So is medicine.

    • I never forget that physicians produce revenue. I don’t; I spend money. Whether or not the physician acts like his/her time is more valuable than mine, they have an inherent worth to the organization that I don’t.

  2. Amen brother – specifically liked the bit about getting things done with invasive cardiologists between cases, since it mirrors my experience exactly.

  3. Excellent and concise article on “how to get ‘ish” done with busy physicians. I wrote something similar for a competing news site that I presented similarly at Epic’s PAC in the past on this.

    Keep posting these sort of articles as more IT departments should hear this message! Physicians are revenue generating (whether we like it or not). Once I left the bedside I knew that I must show value and support my physicians, nursing and ancillary staff to leverage technology better to care for patients. This meant I had to put my ‘pride in my pocket’ and focus on the mean ones, nice ones, cool ones, etc. To my fellow IS colleagues, don’t let disgruntled physicians or bedside providers distract you from your mission….’to serve the patient’! Also remember that doctors are not upset with EHRs and IT (most of the time), they are upset at ‘healthcare’ in general. The EHR and IS tend to be a lightning rod for physicians to leverage their frustrations at. I am very empathetic to practicing physicians today and feel that if I can help save a few clicks or get them home sooner, then they will care for my mom, sister, friends, etc much better! Just my 2 cents given I’ve been on both sides of this!

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