Technically speaking: Things to do during a Population Health System Implementation

Co-authored by John Miller, Carl Keller, Ash Datta

Recently, HighPoint Solutions’ Population Health team wrote two blogs: What to do before implementing a population health system and Suggested timelines when preparing to implement a population health system for population health clinical leadership, providing tips for population health IT platform implementations. HighPoint recognizes the focus for clinical leadership and IT/technical leadership can vary. These tips are focused on assisting the IT/technical leadership with population health IT platform implementations.

Once a health plan decides to implement a new population health system, they want the implementation to go well. A positive implementation is one that’s evaluated by the C-suite as being ‘on time’ and ‘on budget.’ The business/technical teams are often responsible for ensuring a smooth and successful implementation of the new population health  platform.

The population health team at HighPoint partners with healthcare organizations to ensure successful implementations of the new population health platform. Below are tips from HighPoint’s population health team for the business/technical teams tasked with driving the implementation of a new population health platform.

Getting over the finish line    

Implementing a population health platform can be time-consuming, and planning for adequate business/technical resources — including project management — is essential for a successful implementation.

The new population health vendor will need the health plan to identify its business and technical requirements for the implementation. Multiple interviews with members of the internal business/technical teams will be scheduled to accomplish this goal and ensure the requirements meet the objectives of the organization. A confounding variable is that most business/technical teams are already overloaded and overwhelmed with work, and supporting a new population health implementation can increase the risk of other issues within the organization that aren’t being addressed.

It’s recommended that the health plan develop a dedicated business/technical team to work on the implementation. This is preferred rather than adding staff implementation responsibilities to their everyday job.

During an implementation, HighPoint often hears that the business/technical staff are “working this on the side of their desk.” In other words, working on the implementation in addition to their full-time job. Staff cannot successfully perform their full-time job and the work needed for an implementation at the same time. Based on HighPoint’s experience, health plans should designate full-time IT/technical resources for the duration of the implementation.

The health plans’ resources are often understaffed before the implementation begins, or if initially staffed, resources are then diverted during the project. Not placing adequate business/technical resources on the project — either on the front-end or during implementation — may result in delays and frustration by the C-suite or business/user teams, and may negatively affect the project.

Early user engagement

A large part of the success with any change, is gaining user buy-in. Engaging users early, is the beginning of ‘change management’ and was emphasized in an earlier blog. The change management context for the health plan should begin in the C-suite early-on in the project. And, it should be nailed down earlier rather than later, and monitored during the development process, implementation, and post go-live.

To gain buy-in, the health plan should include as many of its business and technology users as possible in the selection process. The users will be engaged if they have input in the selection process. Explain to those involved in the selection process that relevant factors in evaluating the system includes adding value (i.e., increased staff efficiency, and not merely features which provide new ‘bells and whistles.’)

After the vendor has been selected, have frontline population health and other business users engaged in discussions early in the development process. Encourage them to focus on the pain points and challenges with their current processes, and how the new population health platform can assist in solving these challenges.

Ask the population health vendor to provide an early demonstration of the platform and provide a ‘sandbox’ so users can see and use the new system.  One way to rapidly engage the population health staff is to allow them time to learn and test the new system.  The frontline staff will become excited about the possibilities of being more efficient and effective as they envision themselves working on the new population health IT platform. Involving the health plan staff early will also assist them in adapting to the new system.

It’s also important that the business or technical team identifies internal users who will need additional support during the development and implementation processes. As with any change, there will be some users who will say, ‘Hey, you moved my cheese,’ and will embrace the changes of transitioning to a new platform; while others will say, ‘You moved my cheese. I’m angry about that and I’m going to resist this change.’

Listen carefully during discovery

Discovery is the first phase of all population health  system implementations. During the discovery process, the population health operational teams are sharing with the new population health system vendor their current business processes, and providing information on any challenges.

The discovery process helps the organization understand its existing business workflow and what changes need to be made to improve the new system processes. Focus on the tedious, administrative processes which affect staff efficiency and morale (i.e., email communications and spreadsheets). These are typically the ‘low hanging fruit,’ which can easily be addressed through automation in the new IT platform.

Keep in mind that as business process workflows are being discussed, you will want to document everything you need in the new population health platform. For example, if a care manager sends a manual alert in the current system, the new population health platform may replace this with an automated process. With that workflow change, there also needs to be an understanding of these process changes and planning for them.

It’s important to leverage the features and functions of the new population health platform. There will be a lot of dissatisfaction if the workflows and business processes are transferred from the old care management platform to the new environment. The health plan purchased the new population health platform to gain operational and technical efficiencies available in the new population health system.

During discovery, the organization should focus on what makes them unique. Ensure the new population health platform will be built around the unique needs of the organization, and that these are incorporated during the initial implementation, not several months later. This will keep users actively engaged and excited about the new platform.

The HighPoint team plays a significant role as a liaison between the software vendor and your organization during the implementation of a new population health IT platform. HighPoint can work with both parties to ensure that the system implementation is successful.

To learn more about the HighPoint Population Health practice, please reach out to Chris McShanag, vice president, population health.

Co-authored by John Miller, Carl Keller, Ash Datta