• WisBusiness

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The role of the experienced health care project manager


By Tom Burzinski
Amidst all the talk in health care circles lately about improving outcomes through the deployment of advanced information technology (EHRs, clinical business intelligence, e-prescribing, etc.), little mention has been made about the critical role that the project manager plays in the success of these complex and costly projects.

Traditionally, health care organizations have lagged behind other industries in adopting formal project management methodologies, as well as in engaging people (as full-time employees or consultants) with the training and experience needed to successfully plan, execute and monitor large enterprise-wide projects.

Health care organizations instead have relied on in house clinical or technical resources, with limited formal project management experience, to lead projects. While these people may possess health care and/or technical subject matter expertise, they seldom have the training, experience, or temperament required of a senior project manager. Too often, this has led to projects that are poorly implemented (if they’re implemented at all), fail to meet patient or clinician expectations, and cost way too much.

The “perfect storm,” of health care projects coming out of ARRA/HITECH and health insurance reform will only exacerbate this already serious weakness. A recent survey by the Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) suggests that US health care organizations will require up to 25,000 experienced project managers over the next five years to meet the project management demands of these initiatives. Make no mistake; an experienced project manager is a critical success factor for any large health care project.

If current trends continue, by 2018, health care will account for $4.4 trillion or over 20 percent of US gross domestic product! One way to check this unsustainable rate of growth is by implementing innovative health care technology projects, along with the underlying process and organizational change, in an on-time and on-budget manner. And one way to ensure that these innovation projects actually get done is by hiring people possessing the skills required to lead them to a successful outcome.

The art and science of project management is applicable to every aspect of health care -- whether deploying tools to accelerate revenue, setting up new departments, implementing an EHR, expanding outpatient services, managing the ICD-10 upgrade, or deploying clinical business intelligence. Health care managers at every level and functional area from nursing department managers to information technology leaders to hospital administrators need solid health care project management skills in order to succeed and advance the work of their organizations.

Managing stakeholders is arguably the most daunting task for anyone charged with managing a health care project.

Any significant health care project involves dozens of competing stakeholder interests. There are highly educated doctors with strong opinions about how various processes should work, medical software and equipment vendors who have sunk huge amounts of money into their products and need to recover these costs, and insurance companies constantly looking for ways to attract and retain only the most profitable people.

The experienced health care project manager collaborates closely with administrative staff, physicians, caregivers, technical staff, and regulatory agencies when planning a project in order to enhance patient safety, quality of care, and the patient’s experience. The project manager must do this while taking into account increasing patient numbers and acuity levels, staffing shortages, and ever tighter budgetary constraints.

Getting stakeholders to engage, and stay engaged, on a health care project requires leadership, effective communication, and a deep knowledge of various project management techniques and approaches. It also requires someone with the ability to build strong sustainable teams. A project manager with the experience to do this will usually succeed.

The successful health care project manager also needs to have significant practical expertise in planning, cost management, contract negotiations/procurement, technical writing (proposals, etc.), research, technical development, information systems management, business development, corporate/administrative management, and time management.

The health care project manager is a critical resource for any care delivery organization. Elevating the level of health care project management by hiring the people who know how to manage projects, is one way to control rising health care costs, thus keeping more money in the budget for the primary function of the organization - the optimal delivery of health care services to patients.

-- Burzinski is a an IT executive and senior consultant specializing in business intelligence and IT/business alignment. In his 25-year career he has worked for several Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Wisconsin. Burzinski and his family live in Green Bay.

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