HIE Formation Part VII: Defining Your Objectives; Measuring your Progress 

By Laura Kolkman, RN, MS, FHIMSS, and Bob Brown

In this series of monthly articles, based in part on their recently published book, the authors discuss current HIE related events and leading practices within the context of forming an HIE initiative in your state, region or community. This series of articles was launched in the March 2011 issue of HIELights.

As we state in our book, forming an HIE can be likened to taking a journey. And, as in any journey, it’s nice to be able to see – and even measure – your progress.

It’s a great feeling when you can observe your core and extended team members and see that they’re all busy. It’s gratifying, especially after all the hard work of identifying and recruiting them. It should give you and the other members of your steering committee or board a well deserved sense of accomplishment. But you need to ask yourself a single, important question: are you actually getting results? Has that sense of accomplishment you’re feeling been earned?

A reminder to everyone: don’t confuse activity with results. We even remind ourselves on a regular basis not to fall into that trap. Why is that important?

In the absence of specific direction and a documented plan, we’ve found that most people will roll up their sleeves and begin to do what they think is best. Most people want to help. They will earnestly get busy doing what they perceive as the right thing.  Therein lies the rub. Who defined “the right thing?” That would be your job.

Having set up the workgroups that will be doing the “hands on” work associated with forming your HIE, you should also be defining specific objectives and tying those objectives to specific dates. What are the outputs and outcomes you expect from each workgroup? When do you expect them? Are they written down? Have they been well communicated? Have they been agreed to by the various workgroup leaders? Are they understood? 

Is the current status of each of the expected outputs and outcomes of each workgroup discussed at the regular meetings of the steering committee or board? A summary report—describing specific accomplishments—from each workgroup is an essential item on the agenda of each steering committee or board meeting. An earned sense of accomplishment comes from being able to review and check off specific items—previously agreed to by the board and the leaders of the workgroups—that have actually been completed. “We’re all working really hard and things are going just fine,” is much too vague and is not an acceptable report from a workgroup leader.

Examples of appropriate outputs include: the latest update to the HIE’s communication plan, the specific privacy policies which will be used, a description of the proposed technology architecture, the latest update to the interim budget and a description of the recommended governance model. Examples of appropriate outcomes include: a functioning steering committee or board of directors, actively engaged and participating stakeholders, broad understanding of your HIE’s value proposition(s), and agreement on a strategic approach to implementing your enabling technology.

Can you put your hands on the list of outputs and outcomes you’ll be reviewing at the next meeting of the steering committee or board? If your defined outputs and outcomes—and their associated due dates—aren’t written down and appropriately communicated, how can you expect to measure their completion?

Start now to define the specifics by which you’ll define your interim successes and gauge your progress along the way. Make sure your core and extended teams are apprised of updates and additions and are in agreement. Revisit the subject often.  Because you’re concerned with keeping everyone on the same page, this is one area where it’s really hard to over communicate.

Laura Kolkman, RN, MS, FHIMSS, is the president of Mosaica Partners and Bob Brown is the vice president of Professional Services. Their book, The Health Information Exchange Formation Guide, was published by HIMSS in February.  HIMSS’ companion website, where you can read chapter summaries and download select tables, figures, illustrations and checklists, is available at www.himss.org/hieformationguide.