Community Connect is a program that allow a healthcare system to extend its enterprise instance of Epic to smaller partner organizations in the community. This connectivity results in the partner practice or hospital having access to an integrated and robust her, which they may not otherwise be able to afford. As the needs for patient engagement, care coordination, and interoperability grow, the need to extend the capabilities of your EHR to community hospitals, clinics, and physician practices can benefit both the community organization, the hosting health system, and the patient.
Unfortunately, when implementing a Connect program, there can be hurdles within and outside of your organization. Here are 5 top hurdles and how to plan for them:
Hurdle 1: Getting Buy-In
Providers and community hospitals may be knocking on your door, asking for your EHR through a Connect partnership, but getting buy-in from executive leadership can be difficult. Step one is understanding what this means to your health system. Starting up a Connect program is a big financial commitment for the hosting organization and can be resource-intensive. System executives need to understand the rationale behind a Connect program and see the impact on broader organizational strategy. While a Connect program gives providers and smaller hospitals the technology they would not have otherwise, it benefits the host organization by building tighter relationships with community physicians and creating a more complete longitudinal patient record. Launching a Connect program brings new costs and challenges, so ensuring the program aligns with the overall strategic direction is key.
Hurdle 2: Budgeting and Pricing
Earmarking funding can also be a considerable challenge as the Connect program competes with other IT priorities. It is important to emphasize that this is a strategy for the organization as a whole, not just an IT initiative. Provide thoughtful consideration when presenting the financial request, including how, when, why, and where the Connect program will benefit the health system as a whole. Extending your EHR to non-owned practices and hospitals may increase your ability to manage your population’s health, improve patient experience, and strengthen physician relationships. Tying the IT cost to expected system-wide benefits will help to justify the expenditure, as you will likely be subsidizing some piece of the total EMR cost to the community organization.
You will also have to have a good understanding of the total cost to the hosting health system, to ensure that the pricing for community organizations is Stark Law compliant. This can be a tricky exercise as you will have to understand not just the Epic vendor costs, but also estimate staffing levels to implement and support small facilities, which you likely have not had to calculate before.
Hurdle 3: Scoping
Defining what applications, services, and customizations are included in your Community Connect offering is important for the cost and pricing exercise above, to ensure your support model is sustainable, and to define your go-to-market offering. Your Connect scope will include defining what Epic modules are included or not, what non-Epic applications are included, and to what degree you will customize each offering. Epic modules are generally the easiest item to define, but you may need to consider whether to offer modules that you don’t currently use – for example, if you want to extend to an ophthalmology clinic but don’t currently use Kaleidoscope.
Hurdle 4: Staffing
Many health systems IT teams already run lean and adding support for community partner’s contracting, implementation, and post-live support is an additional burden. Staffing your Connect program will require resources for implementation, go-live, and ongoing account management. Using contractors to avoid hiring staff will allow a health-system to meet supply and demand. Employing a program manager is also important to manage the aspects of Connect that do not fit into your standard IT staffing model – things like contracting, SLA development, and offering scope.
Huddles 5: On-Going support
Your health system is now a vendor, which drives important differences in how your team operates. The IT team needs to define SLAs (Service Level Agreements) for the incident, upgrade, and change request processes. Supporting your Connect partners will impact all aspect of IT operations, from your application teams to service desk and ITSM systems, and requires a dedicated strategy to ensure all the pieces are in place to satisfy your customers.
Optimum Healthcare IT has a dedicated Connect Advisory team with over 15 years of experience, including the start-up of the first Connect program in Cleveland in 2006. Our consultants can assist you with overcoming these hurdles and other barriers along with pricing models, contracting, staffing, implementation/go-live, and post-go-live strategies. If you already have an established program, we can review your current state and provide recommendations, industry standards, and lessons learned. The Optimum approach starts with our on-site workshop where we analyze your market and understand costs, develop a tailored offering to meet your strategy, and assist in contract creation and implementation schedule. Click here to learn more about our approach and the workshop we offer.