For the 13th episode of our Monday Morning Healthcare IT Podcast Series, Tom sits down with our VP of Community Outreach Services, Scott Jacobs. Tom and Scott discuss Epic Community Connect, covering topics such as why organizations are turning to Epic Community Connect, how organizations can prepare for Epic Community Connect, the role of leadership in outreach programs like Community Connect, and how to market your Community Connect program.
In case you missed it, make sure you check out last week's episode, where Shantra Moore, Jason Huckabay, and Stephen Tokarz went over two of the newer, more uncoventional methods for ongoing new-hire EHR Training.
Tom: Hello and welcome to the 13th episode of our Monday Morning Podcast Series. My name is Tom Letro of The HCI Group, and today I will be joined by Scott Jacobs, our VP of Community Outreach Services.
In today’s discussion, Scott and I will be going over Epic Community Connect, covering topics such as why organizations are turning to Epic Community Connect, how organizations can prepare for it, the role of leadership in community outreach programs like Community Connect, and how to market your Community Connect program. Thanks for being here today, Scott.
Scott: Yeah not a problem, thank you.
Why Epic Community Connect?
Tom: Alright, now Scott, what makes community outreach programs like Epic Community Connect so attractive to healthcare organizations?
Scott: Well, at the strategic level, it can do a lot of things for them at a relatively low cost. So it is a strategic program, typically, and the old model that most folks use is to purchase folks, you know acquire physicians, buy offices, and so on, to expand their community market share. What a community connect program allows you to do is complete that strategy, or enhance that strategy, whichever, for pennies on the dollar. So what I mean by that is you can extend your technology out to these physicians, without having to acquire them. And because doing business with you, the host, becomes so easy for them, they just naturally do more business with you. It allows you to target specialties, primary care or other specialties that are lacking in your network, or that you’d like to support your existing clinics with. So it’s a very strategic oriented program that allows you to execute community strategy very inexpensively compared to traditional models.
Tom: Ok, and what are some of the hang-ups as to why an organization would be hesitant in expanding their instance of Epic into the community?
Scott: Well many organizations that we work with don’t see it as a strategy, they come at it with a tactical point of view, as some technical thing that maybe one or two physicians have asked for, or they think they have to do it, they have to have an offering based on a competitor in town or something like that, so one of the main problems many organizations face is that they don’t look at it strategically, which obviously it is. And because you don’t look at it strategically, you don’t plan for the strategy and you don’t support for the strategy and so on. So it becomes a tactical program, which sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t. There’s a couple other main things, too. I don’t know if I would call them hang-ups, but maybe challenges. Because it is strategic, it needs to be integrated into your corporate strategic planning. So marketing, business development, physician relations, all those groups that IT typically doesn’t have a whole lot of interaction with need to be involved in the program. And then the third thing I would say which ties into everything I’ve just said is a lack of executive level leadership. Oftentimes, these programs are left in the hand of the IT director, or maybe a VP, and they just don’t have the visibility or organizational juice, as it were, to move a strategic program along. They need some executive level champions.
Tom: Alright, and now that we have gone over a bit of what Epic Community Connect is, let’s move on here and go over maybe some preparedness factors. Obviously there are a number of factors that go into being prepared for an Epic Community Connect project, but how should organizations decide if they are ready for an Epic Community Connect project?
Scott: Well kind of going back to the earlier part of the conversation, so the first thing I would do is make sure that I have executive and strategic level alignment. Align the program with your strategies, so you’re not at odds with yourself. Do not be – I’ve seen organizations try and extend their technology, you know, Epic or whatever it is, to their community. At the same time, there is a different group trying to acquire the same physician. So align the project or the program with your other strategic initiatives. That’s kind of the first thing. The second thing is, I would say you’re not going to have any trouble at all with the technology itself. You’ve implemented Epic, you know how to do that, turning on Community Connect for physicians is very similar to turning on ambulatory for your employed physicians. The technology part is going to be a snap for you. It is all the other stuff, you are now a vendor, so who’s doing marketing, who’s doing sales, who’s executing contracts, who’s taking care of accounts receivable? If the physician doesn’t pay, who’s following up with collections, or what are you going to do if a physician doesn’t pay? What’s in your contract? And then support, you know you’re a vendor, so your support, while it’s not special, it is different from your current service desk offering. So I guess, in summary what I would say is don’t worry so much about the build and the implementation of the technology, you’ve got that nailed and you already know how to do that. It’s all the other things, get those aligned for and ready to go before you kick off your project.
Tom: Ok, and you brought up the fact that you are now a vendor through Epic Community Connect, and you went through a couple of things, but what exactly does that mean for an organization in their day-to-day operations?
Scott: Yeah, so there are several nuances to that. So oftentimes your community physicians are pretty well connected in the organization. They know somebody who’s on the board, or they are on the board themselves, they’re a Chief of Staff, a Chief of Section. So those physicians who are your customers now of IT are very well connected. So, again, while they may not be “special customers” in your service desk area, they are high-visibility. And so, they are different, the workflows, the response times, the service level agreements that you implement for your Connect customers need to be different than your current SLAs, and need to reflect the fact that you are now a vendor to paying customers who are also well connected and high-visibility. So you need to take all those things into consideration. I would say, service desk is probably the largest factor in this conversation around becoming a vendor. Once you get through implementation, it is all service desk, and how you handle the vendor/customer relationship.
Tom: Right and service desk is probably another discussion all on its own so that can be a topic for another time, but, moving on, how is the control aspect of an Epic Community Connect project differ from what people might consider a “normal” IT project?
Scott: Yeah, so typically when IT is given a project, they are in complete control of the situation. They set the timelines, they outline the calendar, they dedicate resources and all of that. With a Community Connect project, IT can do most of that, but not always control everything. Remember, these are paying customers, not your employees. So they have vacations, maybe their office is only open three days a week, maybe the physician rotates, two days a week in one location, three days a week in a different location, and the last day in a third location. Those things are out of your control, so you’ll need to take that into consideration for your project planning. Also, physician offices, some of them can have very high turnover with staff. So I would plan for remedial training, I would also plan for having more robust training materials, leave-behind materials, or CBTs, other things that new staff can pick up. Oftentimes, there might be turnover during your implementation, but often after implementation, you’ve moved on to the next implementation, but all of the offices you’ve implemented previously, they have one or two or three people turning over every month, and you don’t want to have to keep going back and implementing your implementation training methodology. You need a turnover training methodology, whether it’s a super user or manual or CBT, whatever that is. So yeah, there are many aspects to this, and I would say service desk, training, vendor-type support is probably the biggest challenge in that area.
Assembling a Team and Leadership
Tom: Ok, and I know you were talking about turnover, is there ever a unique team that needs to be assembled for a successful Epic Community Connect project? And if so, who should organizations look to put on these teams, and what should they task them with doing?
Scott: Yeah, I like to take a little bit of a different approach than the typical IT approach. Typically, IT staffs these projects with 100% credentialed, certified Epic analysts, who, by the way, are very expensive, to handle everything. And because they can control everything, you don’t want to hire and fire people from projects, that makes sense. For Community Connect projects, however, I like to take a bit of a different approach, certainly have certified analysts back in the home office doing all the technical build work. But what I like to do that’s a little different is perhaps not have a certified Epic builder, because you don’t need builders in the field, but what I like to do is hire folks who have office experience, someone who has previously been a biller, or worked in a physician’s office for a number of years, an office manager, someone like that, who knows office manager workflow, politics, challenges and so on, that perhaps an IT analyst has never experienced. So those are the folks I put in the field to actually do the discovery, the training, the Go-Live support. They’re the folks that develop the relationships, so it’s a former biller talking to the current biller. It’s a former office manager talking to an office manager, and so on, rather than an IT person, who doesn’t even really know what happens in that office, they just know how to build Epic. So that’s kind of how, at a very high level, I split the team into their specific skill expertise. Builders are builders, the field folks have field experience, and then I let each handle accordingly. Of course, they’re all one team, but I found that that works quite well.
Tom: You get people working to their strengths and talking to people who do what they do, it makes sense to me. I feel like being able to identify and arrange for things like that is something leadership should definitely be doing. What else should leadership be doing to ensure that their Epic Community Connect project runs smoothly?
Scott: Well, as with any project, it all comes with planning, so I guess the first thing I would say is, like I mentioned before, make sure all the non-IT planning is completed before you begin your program, know where your program’s headed, set some specific goals, and build some KPIs or Performance Indicators around those goals. If your goal is 500 physicians in the program, or you want to fill up your specialty in your network, you’re lacking GI, or you’re lacking pediatrics, whatever, fill that up. Whatever the goals are, have some goals, make sure all your planning for your non-IT is in place, and then staff and build your team according to the pace of your program. Oftentimes, IT shops will just say “Well, we’re going to matrix these folks in, and we’re going to do it as they come.” If your program goal is 500 docs over the next 3 years, that’s a pretty healthy pace, you’re going to need one or two or three Go-Live’s a month to accomplish that, you’ll need dedicated teams. Now whether that is consultants that you bring in, whether that is matrix folks, FTE folks from your current staff, or you leverage the ambulatory staff, or even some of the customer staff that you’ll be implementing with, usually there’s a mix of all of that, but that team needs to be dedicated to the project, especially if your goals are fairly aggressive or fairly large. So I would say those three areas: Planning for the non-IT work, team-building, and proper sizing and scoping of that team, and then be prepared for a new style of service desk on the back end.
Tom: Right, and one thing that I’m pretty sure that organizations wouldn’t be used to is having to market their IT department, but this is something that I feel you would need to market extensively. So how important is an effective marketing campaign for Epic Community Connect, and what should organizations be prepared to put into their marketing for Epic Community Connect to get the most out of it?
Scott: So I’ve seen a wide variety of strategies around this, I’ve seen traditional existing marketing departments or business development departments handle this. Again, the Community Connect project has been integrated into their overall corporate strategy, and so the owners of those specific areas, physician relations, marketing business development, take on a traditional role and execute. This is just one more tool in their toolbox, so to speak.
Oftentimes, however, those organizations are either not involved, or don’t want to be involved, because of that technology project, and they are not comfortable. Or the organization isn’t ready for that type of operation, so it often falls to the IT shop. So again, I’ve seen many different approaches: postcard mailings, other mailings, physician meetings, just your typical normal vendor-sales type of activities. Where you do have advantage, though, is that you do have a captive audience in your medical staff. So what I would advocate, and what I’ve done, is hang out in the physicians lounge, go to grand rounds, get 5 minutes on the grand rounds calendar. Go to section meetings, get 10-15 minutes on their calendar. Do a really quick 5 minute demonstration about what you offer, and what your program brings to the table and so on. Also, community town halls, physician dinners, pretty much it all depends on how creative your folks want to get, again, if your program is strategically aligned, and has technology just as an implementer, then it becomes easier to think out of the box and do traditional marketing things, or maybe even non-traditional marketing activities. If you’ve been pigeonholed as a typical IT project, you don’t market those, and so your program often suffers when you treat it as a typical IT project. So get out in the field, and have some fun.
Tom: Makes sense to me, and last question here, Scott, what would your advice be to any healthcare facility who is considering an Epic Community Connect project?
Scott: Well, pretty much the summary of what I said before. First, before you even get into planning, figure out what your strategic goal is for the program. It could be to fight off a competitor, it could be to enhance your network, grow your network, and prevent patient leakage out of your network, all kinds of things. Figure out what it is that you are trying to accomplish. How big you need it to be, scale and scope, and then next step, as I mentioned before, get all of that non-IT planning out of the way. Who’s going to do what? Who’s marketing, who’s sales, who’s executing contracts, and so on? Then, the rest of it is just like any typical IT project, form your team, get your project plans together, project management together, governance, and so on, begin executing. And then just be prepared for a different kind of animal when it comes to service desk. So it’s really just one of those things. It’s not rocket science, but it’s usually activities that are not a core competency of an IT shop that will get you tripped up, so watch out for those.
Tom: Alright, thank you Scott, appreciate you coming on today.
Scott: Yeah, thank you.
Tom: Absolutely. To any of our listeners who are looking for more information on Epic Community Connect, make sure to subscribe to our blog and our podcast, as well as to follow us on social media. Also, make sure to comment below with any questions or concerns, things we may have missed, or other topics you would like us to cover, so that we can keep the conversation going.
For Scott Jacobs, this has been Tom Letro of The HCI Group. The HCI Group, offering a smarter approach to healthcare IT.
For more information on what goes into an Epic Community Connect project, make sure to follow us on social media, and to subscribe to our blog and our podcast. Please comment below with any questions, concerns, or things that we may have missed.