Q&A: IT expert Erik Gerard sees potential in healthcare

Erik Gerard, an IT and communications systems expert, has more than 20 years of experience helping healthcare organizations transition into the advanced technological era.

In an exclusive interview with Clinical Innovation & Technology, Gerard discusses the influence IT and communication advancements has had on the healthcare space, while also offering advice on taking on these new technologies.

Clinical Innovation & Technology: Do you believe communication has improved or does the amount of new tech hinder communication within the healthcare setting?

Erik Gerard: If implemented properly and integrated into clinical workflows, the new capabilities can improve communication and effectiveness. I’m aware of organizations that invested in technology but didn’t get buy-in from staff or didn’t incorporate properly into their workflows. These turned out to be failures.

Conversely, there are organizations that handled these well and are reaping the benefits of improved communications. In some cases, these technologies have paid for themselves in a matter of months.

What has been the biggest innovation in health IT that brings clinicians closer together?

I don’t know that I can point to a single innovation. Rather, a collection of technologies, when implemented together, can dramatically improve communications for clinicians. While there are healthcare organizations that have implemented a few of these on an individual basis, it has been more of an ad hoc approach. Yet if you were to develop a holistic, unified communication strategy, you could really have the hospital of tomorrow, today. The technology is there. It is proven. You just need someone who can bring all the pieces and parts to the table.

How do clinicians see healthcare IT? Are they skeptical or do most embrace the change?

Clinicians don’t turn to IT for solutions all that often because they don’t feel IT has a good understanding of their needs. Yet many clinicians embrace new technologies, as long as they feel it improves their or the patients’ situation. While healthcare IT is becoming a more reliable service provider, most are still striving to become strategic partners with the clinicians.

What do you suggest when clinicians become frustrated or hesitant with the technology?

One of the keys to successful technology implementations is to provide solid training and to give clinicians sufficient time to become comfortable with the changes. This means setting up appropriate training environments where the clinicians can practice and, if necessary, have resources at their elbow to provide answers and guidance.

Clinicians need to be able to react to sudden changes in situations, so they must have knowledge and confidence in the technology they use.

What do healthcare IT providers need to do better to get users to buy in?

It is important that IT work more closely with the clinical staff to better understand their challenges, so IT can bring relevant solutions to the table, rather than working in a vacuum and delivering what they think might be needed.

Talk with the clinicians. Ask questions. Find out what their challenges are. Get their input on possible solutions. Use that information to develop functional requirements and then have the clinicians review those requirements to ensure accuracy. Use these to develop technical requirements that IT can use to deliver the actual solution.

Get feedback along the way so IT delivers what the clinicians really need.

Do you have any advice to our readers working in health IT?

I like to think that healthcare IT has a “higher calling,” in that we provide the technology to help clinicians deliver better patient care. At the same time, anyone going into this should be aware of the additional stress that can be caused by the higher level of criticality of their work. As I used to tell my teams at Kaiser Permanente: “People can live or die by how well we do our jobs.”