Halifax Health's CIO sees delayed EHR go-live as a good thing: Here's why

Five years ago, Halifax Health was working with an unreliable IT system while working toward meaningful use attestation. Physicians were trying to document electronically and use computerized physician order entry but faced problems with usability and stability. Halifax Health was using two disparate wireless networks, an aging wired network and a mostly physical server infrastructure that was at capacity.

So when leadership at the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based health system outlined priorities, they decided to fully commit to upgrading the IT infrastructure. Halifax Health was also concerned about managing costs, and the health IT team proposed an IT upgrade to consolidate and streamline workflows and accommodate growing volumes of data, says Tom Stafford, vice president and CIO of the health system.

"We weren't quite there," Mr. Stafford says, regarding the IT system's preparedness and ability to support the influx of physician users.

When starting to plan five years ago, Mr. Stafford says he sat down with Halifax's finance and capital committee to outline the case for upgrading the IT infrastructure. "[We] showed them if we refreshed the gear now at affordable rates, we would have a very reliable system that we could then rely upon for many years to come. They trusted us," he says.

The health system worked with CDW Healthcare, a technology solutions and services provider, to assist in planning and obtaining pricing for the infrastructure transformation, which included new network infrastructure, storage, software asset management, unified communications and more.

Upgrading the technology had its clear-cut benefits like enhanced reliability of the system and workflow efficiencies and capabilities for physicians, but Mr. Stafford also mentions another unintended, but positive, outcome: a significant morale boost for the Halifax IT team members . He says the IT team members are enthusiastic to come to work because they are using functioning technologies that enable, instead of hindering, the hospital’s workflows.

"If you're supposed to be working on a network switch to enhance data communications and it constantly breaks or there are always issues you're trying to bandage together, you're probably not going to be happy about your work," Mr. Stafford says. "By providing these [upgraded systems], our team members are able to focus on enhancing our systems and increasing their knowledge and experience with relevant technology.  Our IT team members can grow in their chosen IT field because they have the satisfaction of enhancing hospital, physician, and patient workflows, instead of spending time on temporary band-aids for an outdated system."

Another initiative during  Halifax's infrastructure transformation  was the hospital's adoption of the latest version of MEDITECH's 6.1 web-based EHR. Mr. Stafford says he worked closely with other MEDITECH users and the IT vendor itself to inform the vendor about the types of capabilities and workflows users required in 6.1.

Mr. Stafford says he, along with a physician from a large, complex hospital utilizing the same version of MEDITECH, held a summit with leaders from other hospitals using MEDITECH's platform. About 60 leaders came to Daytona Beach and discussed the improvements  they needed for the MEDITECH software. When Mr. Stafford later discussed these suggested improvements and processes born out of the summit, he says MEDITECH was very receptive to the suggestions and the "voice of the customer." 

The planning and input stages pushed the MEDITECH go-live back from October 2016 to July 2018, but Mr. Stafford says the delay will ultimately be worth it, as it means the health system is receiving a product that was built with its input.

"At this point, Halifax Health feels like we're investing in MEDITECH and they're investing in us, as the end-users.  The delay in implementing the next version of MEDITECH was a pretty big speed bump at one point in time, but [MEDITECH's] transparency and working collaboratively with us will ensure we receive a product we're going to be happy with for the next 15 years."

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