Part XI: Keeping the Community Informed

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

In this series of monthly articles, the authors, based in part on their recently published book, discuss current HIE-related events and leading practices within the context of forming an HIE initiative in your state, region or community.  This is Part 11 of the series.  You can access previous installments at the HIELights e-newsletter archives.

We describe the process of forming a health information exchange organization – be it public or private – as a large scale change management project, albeit with a significant technology component.  We believe that this mindset is absolutely necessary to develop a successful and sustainable health information exchange entity.

Another essential thing to keep in mind is the need to earn – and retain – the trust of your various stakeholders.  To do this, you must keep them informed.  One of the key tools you’ll utilize is your organization’s communication plan.  In a well-managed HIE formation effort, the first version of the communication plan typically begins to take shape in the very early days of the process, in the initiation phase.  From there, it should continually be revisited and revised to ensure it is up to date and effectively assisting you in accomplishing your objectives.

There are five primary elements that must be properly defined and described in an HIE organizational communication plan.  They are: stakeholders, objectives, messages, channels and responsibility.  We’ll briefly describe what you’ll need to consider for each of these as you develop your communication plan:

Stakeholders are the people and organizations in your community that will be involved with, or impacted by, the establishment of an HIE.  This covers physicians and hospitals, as well as labs and the national or regional payers that serve your community.  It also includes patients and others who are part of the larger community.  Example questions to answer include: Are there public or private organizations whose agreement or support is crucial to your HIE’s success?  Are there organizations or individuals who do not understand what an HIE is or does and, as a result, might take a negative stance?  You will need to understand and document the wants, needs and concerns of each segment of stakeholders.

Objectives, as they relate to a communications plan, come in two forms.  There are project level objectives, and there are specific objectives related to individual stakeholder segments.  While you’re communicating the objectives and benefits of the overall project, it is also important to have specific objectives reflecting your relationship with the various stakeholders.  For example, what do they need to know?  What would you like them to do?  When do you need them to act?

Messages should be tailored to help you achieve your objectives.  Having and communicating a clear and consistent message that describes the reasons for – and benefits associated with – an HIE is essential.  Developing specifically tailored messages for the different stakeholder segments is considered a leading practice; provided those messages are congruent with your primary message.

Channels are the various methods you use to reach your stakeholders.  They can range from television and direct mailings to social media updates, town hall meetings or one-on-one conversations.  Messages are conveyed via specific channels to specific stakeholder segments in order to keep them informed and help you accomplish your objectives.

Responsibility concerns explicitly identifying who will do what by when.  Who will write the press releases?  Who will be the primary speaker at a town hall type of meeting?  Who will design the online survey or surveys that you will use?  Who is your media contact person?

Keeping the community that you’ll be serving informed is essential to your success.  The community needs to understand the changes coming and how they will be affected.  It’s not something that will happen by itself.  We have found that the only way to do this effectively is to create, revisit and revise your communication plan on a regular basis and then be sure it’s being appropriately executed.

Laura Kolkman, RN, MS, FHIMSS is the President of Mosaica Partners and Bob Brown is the VP of Professional Services. Their book—The Health Information Exchange Formation Guidewas published by HIMSS in Februar, 2011. View the HIMSS’ companion web site to read chapter summaries and download select tables, figures, illustrations and checklists.