Tips for the successful adoption of digital health tools

Best Practices

While today’s clinics have a growing number of effective digital tools available, putting them into practice is becoming increasingly difficult. From complex EMR integrations and employee retraining to patient education and data security concerns, the challenges with adopting any new solution are significant. And at a time when healthcare resources are already stretched to their limit, it takes the collective will of clinicians, staff and their patient population to ensure that important digital upgrades are made successfully.

At last year’s Ontario Medical Group Management Association (OMGMA) conference, our team shared some proven strategies and real-world experiences for overcoming this difficult “IT-inertia” and establishing strong multi-stakeholder support when adopting digital health tools. For those who couldn’t attend, here is a brief overview of our tips below:

Consider the cost, but don’t forget the return

Understandably, cost is of primary concern when it comes to selecting and maintaining any new digital health tools. Simply put, if the cost of adopting a new tool is prohibitive – or felt to be so – it will never have a chance to demonstrate its potential value.

The reality is that most of the time, digital health tools will ultimately pay for themselves many times over by reducing administrative burden and wait-times, improving patient satisfaction and outcomes, and streamlining clinical decision-making. In fact, a recent study showed clinics saved on average $252 a month by implementing an online booking system which costs far less.

In addition, some provinces including Ontario and Nova Scotia have provided dedicated funding for clinics seeking to adopt digital tools including online booking and eReferrals. So, depending on where you operate, it is important to understand all the funding opportunities at your disposal before embarking on the selection process.

The more perspectives the merrier

When selecting new tools for your practice, we recommend considering the perspectives of everyone involved. You will be surprised how much more invested in the success your team will be if they were asked for feedback or ideas early on!

This also means asking the right questions and having open communication among the team. For administrators and providers, what are their specific needs? What are their current pain points? What do they wish they could do? For patients, what fears or concerns do they have? What is their digital literacy? What kind of questions are they asking?

The more perspectives you collect, the better positioned you will be to research solutions that fit best. When you’re ready, look to your provincial health authority for credible information and resources to support your vendor selection process. And don’t rely on word of mouth alone! While personal experience from staff or colleagues is important, having demo videos and brochures on-hand to share among your team prior to final selection will help them feel more informed and ultimately invested in the successful adoption.

An ounce of planning is worth a pound of cure

Finally, once you’ve selected a vendor, the next (and biggest) step is preparing for implementation and training. While this section deserves its own article (and workshop), a few pointers for where and how to best prepare your team are listed below. And remember, a team that feels they’ve had enough time to adapt to new tools will be much more willing and able to make the most of them.

  1. Schedule time for training: Days get busy and finding time for new initiatives like training can be difficult to do when other priorities get in the way. But it can’t be overlooked! In our experience, booking time for staff training sessions is crucial. Otherwise, it can easily stay on the backburner and result in a hectic rush when the time to transition arrives. Providing training sessions will also help staff feel more confident in their ability to use the tools, which will encourage adoption and improve the chances of success.
  2. Set realistic expectations: When adopting digital health tools, don’t try to change everything overnight! Too much change at once is sure to cause undue stress and anxiety. Digital health tools can be quite complex, and introducing too many changes at once can quickly become overwhelming for even the more tech-savvy people. Therefore, it is best to start with a small, manageable change and gradually introduce more complex features over time. By setting realistic expectations openly and transparently with the group and taking a step-by-step approach, staff will be more likely to embrace the changes and be successful in implementing the new tools.
  3. Assign a point-person: If you have a team or physician leader who embraces technology, consider designating them as your “Product Lead” or Expert who can facilitate peer-to-peer sessions, field tech questions, and share experiences and best practices more among the team. This approach can help build a sense of community among staff and encourage adoption and reduces the likelihood of feeling lost or overwhelmed by change.
  4. Loop-in patients: For your patients, consider putting together a communications plan. Give them a heads up about the coming changes and what they can expect. It doesn’t have to be fancy, simply letting them know in advance that positive changes are coming can make all the difference.

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