Moving forward with a 'strategic pause': How RWJBarnabas scored a perfect 10 on its mid-pandemic EHR implementation

West Orange, N.J.-based RWJBarnabas Health recently received a Epic Gold Stars Level 10 recognition, placing the health system in the top 0.3 percent of all Epic users for its EHR implementation process. This was made possible because of Robert Adamson, MD, executive vice president, CIO and operational leader for the Epic EHR system, who decided to implement an operation shift that allowed the health system to continue to build out the system during the height of the pandemic.  

The health system's multimillion-dollar Epic Together EHR implementation project, which aims at integrating multiple disparate systems into one platform, began in 2019. 

The five-year project, expected to be completed in 2024, could have been significantly delayed as the health system faced COVID-19 just a year after beginning, but Dr. Adamson made what he calls a "strategic pause."  

This pause allowed frontline healthcare workers at RWJBarnabas Health — those who worked in the ICU and emergency rooms — to continue to see patients and make that their top priority, while allowing staff who had the availability to become strategic leaders in building out the Epic system. 

"We found out that 70 percent of the people we needed to build the system were fully available to keep making decisions," Dr. Adamson told Becker's. "So I directed the team to put all the people who weren't available at the end of the build, and all the people who were available to move them forward."

As a result of this plan, the implementation was able to continue without delay, and project productivity increased by 43 percent.

"Epic estimated that productivity would decrease by 30 to 40 percent due to people not being in the office and collaborating," said Dr. Adamson. "But, when we sent everyone to do remote work, we found ourselves constantly communicating and found that people had become much more efficient. When we compared what we were doing prior to and then after remote, we found that we saw a 43 percent increase in productivity." 

Dr. Adamson said the push to continue the implementation has led the health system to change the speed and depth in the way it is able to deliver care to patients. 

"It has changed the speed, the depth and the richness of the discussions we have with our patients. It's made our fellow clinicians more efficient, because now they have patient information at their fingertips."

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