Improving the experience for clinicians is key to the success of digital health projects

From the Frontline - a semi-regular series of blogs featuring independent thought leadership and comment from a range of leaders that span the healthcare industry.

The Health and Care Act 2022 is bringing some of the biggest changes in over 25 years to the way the NHS in England and the wider care sector will collaborate to integrate services for patients. The rapid adoption of digital health solutions including Electronic Patient Records (EPR) across ICSs is seen as vital to enable effective collaboration. The target is for the vast majority of trusts to be using EPR by the end of 2023 – but is simply achieving a numeric target a real indication of the successful delivery of personalised integrated care and truly harnessing the power of technology advances? 

Is success all about implementing the ‘right solution’?

Global research by KLAS Research (as part of their Arch Collaborative programme), which now includes feedback from clinicians in England, shows that the quality and functionality of the EPR IT solution is only one piece of the larger puzzle in delivering digital project success and satisfaction. The research, which focuses on improving the clinical experience of digital healthcare solutions, shows the same EPR solution being used in some of the most successful projects and also in some of the least successful too, where success is defined as clinician satisfaction. Clearly implementing ‘the best’ product doesn’t guarantee happy clinicians and higher quality patient care. So what are the other success factors to consider?

It’s not just about the supplier and functionality of the IT solution. The idea of a league table of systems ranked from ‘best’ to ‘worst’, is a false one. Success is actually about the clinician experience in the round. System capability is just one element of this, simplicity, usability, performance and security are others. Learning from other successful organisations can improve clinicians’ satisfaction, drive up adoption and improve the experience and outcomes for patients, all for a relatively low investment.

Focus on the clinician’s whole experience

The research indicates clinician satisfaction is just one third down to the EPR product itself. Two thirds of the success factors relate to the user themselves (skills, training, support, confidence) or the organisational situation (network performance, ease of login, hardware quality, recognition by management that the implementation project should be focused on people not IT).

Based on their personal experience of apps for banking, shopping etc. clinicians, like everyone else, expect digital solutions to be simple to access and use, and to be stable and safe. A clinician’s opinion about the EPR can be heavily influenced by how easy it is to log on and switch between systems, response times, and how confident they feel in using the solution to make it a part of their work processes. These factors have little to do with the EPR solution itself. Clinicians are judging their whole digital experience not just the EPR solution in isolation.

Transforming work practices not just implementing software

A large part of the success of an EPR implementation is how the project itself is positioned, perceived and measured. These are not IT projects, these are PEOPLE projects. Focusing on clinicians’ needs and their experience of digital solutions as a whole is the way forward. Is it easy to log in? Are response times fast enough? Is the hardware accessible and up to the job? Is it simple to switch between applications? Are processes intuitive so that users don’t need to repeatedly call help lines for advice? But when they do need assistance, is support easy to access? Satisfied clinicians will deliver EPR success, which in turn improves the experiences and outcomes for patients. This is the true ROI of EPR implementations. EPR solutions should continue to deliver value to Trusts over the next decade as clinicians embed them into workflows and discover ways to innovate processes and improve productivity.

When measuring Digital Maturity the NHS has previously concentrated on the deployment of systems, not the clinicians’ overall experience. Success has often been measured by whether a system went live on time rather than asking if clinicians are actually using it to improve processes, increase productivity and enhance patient experiences. The Arch Collaborative research now provides a way to measure the user experience and to benchmark results with other healthcare organisations in the UK and around the world. True success can now be identified, rather than a box just ticked.

Next steps

Improving the experience for clinicians is key to the success of digital health projects such as implementing EPR solutions. To find out more, download Imprivata’s white paper, “What can a unified digital identity strategy bring to an ICS?”.