HIMSS News

The Role of Informatics in Project Management

By Trish Gallagher, RN, MSHS, CPHQ
October 2012, HIMSS Clinical Informatics Insights

My current project has emphasized the importance of the project being clinically driven, and IT enabled. The CMO along with the CNO are the executive sponsors and key members of the project sponsor team along with IT and financial representation. In order to support the clinically driven philosophy, my role as clinical transformation lead is partnered with a project manager for overall project leadership. In tandem, the goal is to have the informatics role drive the project direction with the project manager supporting the activities with reporting tools, issue management and overall coordination. This structure combines both the unique skills of an informaticist with project management skills needed for a successful project; however, clear role definition is required for each to feel successful. Let’s look at informatics’ role in each phase of a health IT project: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and closing.

During the initiation phase, the informatics professional is key in identifying the project requirements and objectives. From the moment the project is presented for organizational approval, it is important to have an informaticist participate in developing the project requirements and scope in order to prevent a mismatch between the expectations of the customers and the final product. This includes review of vendor contracts, timelines and scope to ensure the requirements are clearly understood resulting in a project charter signed off by key stakeholders.

The initiation phase logically leads to the planning phase, where specific tasks are determined that will be part of the overall project plan. An informaticist who understands the overall scope of the project, as well as the current organization can be a key resource in identifying specific tasks related to design, workflow reengineering and where potential barriers may exist. After development of the project plan, execution begins. Informaticists lead system design activities and are integrally involved in hardware selection activities, workflow analysis and testing strategies.

The involvement of end users in the execution phase, maximizes adoption of new workflows and technology at go live.

In the monitoring phase, informatics and project management should work in tandem. During this phase the project manager is ensuring resource conflicts are handled and deliverables are being met. The project manager is not necessarily the resource who will be able to facilitate resolution of some of the issues that may be identified as impeding project progress, and needs to rely on informatics to facilitate some of the sessions where process may need to be adjusted with clinicians to improve efficiency and/or safety.

For example, during the execution phase, it is identified that Radiology Contrast administration really needs to be charted as part of the electronic medication administration record. Although the project manager is responsible for ensuring issues like this are resolved, it is the informatics lead who will research best practice recommendations along with regulatory requirements and then assemble the decision makers needed in order to modify workflow, update policies as needed and integrate the new requirement into system design. The informatics lead is a key member to help facilitate the numerous clinical issues that will arise during the execution and monitoring phase. The project manager will report to executive sponsors with metrics on potential obstacles for the project which may be jeopardizing budget, timelines or scope, but the informaticist is a key change agent in facilitating resolution.

In the final closing phase, the informaticist works in tandem with the project management team to resolve open issues or changes from the conversion that are part of the current project. During this time, it is important to identify ‘new requests’ that were not necessarily part of the original scope that may be needed. A formal review of the project objectives and sign off from executive sponsors will formally close the project out. However, from an informatics perspective – this is where our job begins as we work closely with the end users to continue to optimize the way we use the system to improve efficiency and patient care. 

My current project has emphasized the importance of the project being clinically driven, and IT enabled. The CMO along with the CNO are the executive sponsors and key members of the project sponsor team along with IT and financial representation. In order to support the clinically driven philosophy, my role as clinical transformation lead is partnered with a project manager for overall project leadership. In tandem, the goal is to have the informatics role drive the project direction with the project manager supporting the activities with reporting tools, issue management and overall coordination. This structure combines both the unique skills of an informaticist with project management skills needed for a successful project; however, clear role definition is required for each to feel successful.

Five things to remember for health IT projects

  1. The project must be patient centric - isn’t that why we are doing all this?
  2. Remember the three project management constraints: time, money and resources. Be prepared to spend more if the implementation time is short - do not sacrifice quality.
  3. Keep the clinical focus through the use of informaticists in project leadership roles.
  4. Document decisions and try not to revisit them over and over again.
  5. Engage end users in design, testing and education - improves adoption.

About the Contributor
Trish Gallagher, RN, MSHS, CPHQ, is an independent Informatics Consultant specializing in helping organizations integrate informatics structures into their organizations; leading clinical transformation projects and assessing/optimizing clinical workflow to achieve specific operational goals.