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The Myth of Healthcare IT Projects

Discussions about the public IT projects of healthcare easily give the impression that such projects always fail [1, 2]. Either the schedule or the budget fails and the results are not of the kind that was sought. It seems to be common knowledge that the development of healthcare processes consumes tremendous time and resources.

We can dispel this myth straight away, however. That is to say, such is not always the case. Public IT projects can succeed and they do succeed as long as project planning, monitoring and implementation are accomplished carefully. By understanding what commonly makes IT projects go down, it is also possible to avoid such an outcome.

The most common stumbling blocks of IT projects are [3]:

  • Poor planning,
  • Unrealistic time estimates,
  • Unfocused and changing objectives,
  • Lack of internal support and communication within the organisation.

Planning from A to Z

Planning is the key factor for the success of an IT project. The plan should be developed in detail from the beginning of the project to the end. However, a margin of flexibility should also be left for any unexpected changes. This requires a course of action containing rules, processes and tools for both project planning and management.

Furthermore, it should be taken into account already at the planning stage that healthcare information technology projects also involve many moving components and different professional backgrounds (clinical, business and IT). In terms of the smoothness of the project, it is thus important for the project members to have mutually accepted expectations for the project from the very beginning. It is also essential to allocate the right duties to the right people.

Getting Time Estimates in Shape

In order for the project to be successful and in conformance with both the budget and schedule, it is very important to estimate the time and resources to be spent on performing each task. Without the existence of benchmark values from the beginning, it is difficult to define what is “on time”.

Each stake group should also review the state of the various functions and schedules regularly in order to keep the project on the right track. This will allow the team more room in case of unexpected setbacks and enable measures to be implemented in compliance with the original project schedule.

Making the Objectives Clear

It is important to determine and understand the project objectives clearly. What is to be achieved by means of the project? Especially, how will this be measured? For example, improving the quality of care is a good objective, but it is also a broad term. This is why reviewing the objective needs the support of tangible indicators as well.

Objectives should also be made clear to everyone participating in the project. Even simple things, such as clearly organized agendas, minutes, plans of action and informative emails are of significance.

Similarly, the project should stick to its objectives. For example, there should be no slipping in the criteria required of suppliers: neither at the selection stage nor the promise keeping stage.

Having Communication Run Smoothly

Communication breaks are often the downfall of any project. When information does not flow, project members are not able to prepare for unexpected situations, never mind being able to respond to such. This applies to the end users as well. If they do not know of a transformation coming, they will quickly jump ship. Getting users to commit to the project already at an early stage facilitates the smoothness of the commissioning itself.

Thus, active communication, training and member commitment should be emphasized during the entire project life cycle. In addition to internal communication within the organisation, there should be open communication with the suppliers.

References:

[1] Talouselämä 2011: Suomella on pitkä IT-mokahistoria

[2] Malinen & Pyykkö 2010: Julkishallinnon IT-kehityshankkeiden epäonnistuminen ja siihen johtavat syyt

[3] Dwyer, Liang, Thiessen & Martini 2013: Project Management in Health and Community Services

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