5 tips for creating a strategic plan for IT

By Michelle McNickle
01:38 PM

A strategic plan is crucial to the success of an organization's IT, but today's healthcare landscape is calling for a more patient-centered approach to planning for information technology. In fact, Sue Sutton, president and CEO of Tower Strategies, believes the future of IT planning should focus on an inclusive approach -- all while optimizing workflows, playing up social media, and keeping staff needs in mind.

Sutton breaks down five tips for creating a strategic plan for IT. 

1. Think about the patient experience. What's interesting right now, said Sutton, is how patient experience is one of the "major" challenges in most healthcare organizations. "And many organizations haven't thought through how information technology can support and improve the patient experience," she said. When considering the cultural change the organization is bound to experience when taking on new IT, Sutton said it's crucial to consider what can be done electronically to support patients, whether they're in the facility or not. "This is through kiosks, tablet devices, and more," she said. Another tip she suggested was employing patient focus groups to gauge what patients want to see most when it comes to hospital IT. "I'm not sure that IT [departments have] really thought about [the fact] that one of their customers is really the patients," she said. "They've been thinking their customers are the staff. There are so many tools that are patient-facing or potentially patient-facing that they haven't leveraged."

2. Consider best practices. Sutton looked to other industries to illustrate the level of care healthcare organizations should demonstrate through their use of IT. For example, she said, "the Ritz Carlton [tries] to say your name 11 times before you get to your room. There's a lot of technology that's available to help get to know the patient better." Based on what she's seeing, the Web is often used as a first point of engagement. "And after answering a couple questions, we can begin personalizing a patient's information and the care we're providing to them," she said. "After we know more about you, we can begin to tell you information based on the stages of your treatment." For example, she continued, a patient would receive different information via the Web for their first consultation, as opposed to their first round of treatment for, say, cancer. "At that point, we should be talking to you about what our organization offers, what teams you'll be working with. When it's time for your first visit, it's how you should prepare and when you get into treatment," she said. "It's a different thing."

[See also: Strategic Plan missing outcomes measurement.]

3. Remember the staff experience. The staff needs to have successful workflows to interact effectively with patients, said Sutton. "We see this all the time—the workflows for the staff are so erroneous in the fact they have multiple applications they have to access and they don't have a single log-in," she said. "They have too many different devices or they don't have a choice of devices. They just don't have an optimized workflow." IT leaders need to address this concern, Sutton continued, by keeping in mind efficiencies and how clinicians work. "People need to be able to move around and provide clinical care without being tied to a PC," she said. "When we're thinking about IT planning, we're thinking about how we're able to enable the staff to do their work in a workflow that's enabled with devices, or integrated with technology."

4. Don't forget about social media. "What we’re seeing in social media is it's not in IT planning," said Sutton. "It's usually attached to marketing or another part of the organization; it's not integrated into the planning for IT." It's important to consider how communicating with patients and staff plays into planning for IT, she added, since without consideration for social media and how it will be used, it will become difficult for patients and staff to have a "singular experience." "So [IT] needs to work with the departments who have social media and work out a plan that's going to have a consistent presentation to the end user," she said.

[See also: IT to shift healthcare responsibility to consumer.]

5. Employ integrative planning. With major focus on both the patient and staff experience, Sutton said integrative planning is critical. "So to wrap all of this up, we start talking about staff and patient experience and improving the workflow, marketing, operations, and clinical teams need to be at the table," she said. "Usually, IT does their strategic planning in isolation; they say 'let's get the requirements from the organization and then we'll sit down and do our plan.'" Integrative planning, she continued, allows for not only a consistent plan, but also support for the IT plan from all parts of the organization. "IT has gotten a lot of heat in the past because staff say 'that's IT's plan,'" she said. "It's time for the rest of the organization to be engaged and support IT. People need to be thinking about the way IT planning has been done in the past -- which was to focus on their own issues -- and what needs to happen now. This is the future of IT planning."

Follow Michelle McNickle on Twitter, @Michelle_writes