Epic go-live at UMass Memorial a masterclass in getting staff behind an EHR switch, CIO says

Engagement across the health system, starting with the selection and eventual design of the system, helped $700 million project go off without a hitch.
By Bernie Monegain
11:43 AM

UMass Memorial Health Care CIO Tim Tarnowski says his system’s Oct. 1 Epic go-live could be a model for change management, calling it “the smoothest go-live that I’ve ever been a part of.” 

Tarnowski, who has been doing this type of work for 30 years, has led two other Epic implementations in the past as well as rollouts of EHRs from multiple other vendors, he said.

UMass Memorial, which serves central Massachusetts, operates four hospitals, with 1,600 physicians on the medical staff.

[Also: Here's why 9 systems made planning for EHR go-lives a priority]

While the go-live at UMass may have been smooth, it was not without its glitches. In fact, the CIO said there were thousands of them, it’s just that they were expected.

Many of the issues ranged from not being able to log into the system to users who could not remember where to find something, Tarnowski said.

The system is hosted remotely by Epic. There were issues with backend infrastructure configurations within Epic’s data center, but they were solvable, he said.

[Also: UMass Memorial Health Care poised for Epic go-live on Oct. 1]

“We have not what we’d call significant issues,” Tarnowski said. “To have a number of issues at go live – that’s simply part of what happens with major transformations,” he said.

Getting workforce buy-in

Tarnowski credits the successful go-live to exceptionally engaged personnel across the board. Extensive preparations were also key.

Of UMass’ 13,000 employees, about 1,200 are frontline team members who participated deeply in the process, starting with the selection of the EHR.

“Our belief is we want to get the frontline heavily involved,” Tarnowski said. “As an organization, we made it a top priority. And when I say that, I mean everybody. Everybody who had to get to training went to training. Everybody who had to help design the system, participated and engaged.”

Tarnowski described conference rooms overflowing because people were so highly engaged and interested in the project.

“I have worked places where you schedule a meeting for 30 people, and 15 show up,” he said. “Here, we scheduled it for 40 and 60 showed up. The frontline engagement was fabulous on this one.”

One of the keys to an optimal rollout, as he sees it, is that frontline engagement in the selection of the EHR -- and especially in the design, and it proved to be the case with this implementation, he said.

He also credits UMass Memorial Health Care President and CEO Eric. W. Dickson, MD, and his team for helping to pushing the decision making as deep as possible in the organizing and for making his rounds to hear first-hand how things were going.

Cost, of course, is always a factor. The $700 million price tag for the project pays for infrastructure, training, hardware, network closets, better bandwidth and a Microsoft Office suite. The EHR cost comes in at about $200 million, he said.

Dickson has said that if the EHR, which replaces a patchwork of technology from several other vendors, increases hospital efficiency by just 2 percent each year over the next five years, it will have paid for itself.

Twitter: @Bernie_HITN
Email the writer: bernie.monegain@himssmedia.com

More regional news

CMS Administrator Seema Verma and National Coordinator for Health IT Dr. Donald Rucker

Is synthetic data the key to healthcare clinical and business intelligence?

The open source synthetic data source, Synthea. (Diagram courtesy of The MITRE Corporation.)