Consultants Don’t Want Your Job, But We Do Need Your Help

If you’ve been employed at a hospital or health system during the past decade, chances are you’ve worked with or at least encountered an outside consultant or consulting team.

Maybe you saw us roaming the halls or hunched over our laptops in conference rooms. Maybe we shadowed your day-to-day work to see what you do. Or maybe we trained you and your peers on a new software system.

Some of you welcome us with open arms and open minds, but others may resent us, viewing our work as an intrusion or threat.  Believe me, I understand both perspectives.

From Clinician to Consultant

You see, I’ve worked in health IT for 15 years, including 8 years as a consultant, but I started my career on the clinical side, working as a Radiographer and later as an Ultrasound tech. A large-scale EHR project at our hospital was my introduction to IT consultants and frankly, I felt a little uneasy about working alongside these outsiders who were asking a lot of probing questions about my job.

I was the clinical expert, but I worried that the consultants were smarter than me, or worse, that my employer might be trying to replace me.

Of course, neither of those things were true. But I can still appreciate the apprehension that some employees feel when consultants arrive on the scene.

You might question why your hospital needs consultants in the first place? Why don’t they just hire full-time employees or promote from within to get the job done? Those are fair questions and the answers are usually straightforward. In my experience, I’m hired by your employer for one of these reasons:

1) I have specialized skills you or your department may not have in house

2) I bring a trusted ‘outside’ perspective having worked on similar projects at other health systems

3) Your employer needs more resources on a short-term basis to meet a critical deadline or to complete a project

Working Toward the Same Goals

Rest assured that consultants don’t come onsite with the intent of taking your job. We love what we do and know that we are hired as interim experts to help your organization meet its objectives for a given software project.

The truth is that we achieve the best outcomes when we work with you, and not against you or around you.  So how do we do that when both sides may be apprehensive about working together? Here are some of my thoughts for improving collaboration and trust between consultants and employees.

  • Organizations should be transparent about why – and when – consultants are coming on board. If appropriate, involve staff in the screening and hiring process. If employees feel blindsided or anxious, they should feel comfortable voicing concerns to higher ups, so they are not taking it out on the consultants.
  • Thoughtful on-boarding that helps consultants get up to speed and feel integrated into a team as quickly as possible helps all parties. As a consultant, I want to know as much as I can about the project, your organization, and your culture. I transitioned into a project once where my predecessors had created a photo tour of the department I was working in, including pictures and names of all the staff members. It was greatly appreciated—and useful!
  • Establish protocols and provide tools for knowledge transfer between staff members and consultants. Everyone benefits from information sharing and clear documentation showing build progress, issue tracking, and all key decisions.
  • Provide clarity around the project goals to all stakeholders. At the end of the day, project goals are the North Star that should guide consultants and employees alike: whether that’s achieving Go Live by a certain date or releasing new functionality to enhance departmental performance. There’s nothing like a hard deadline and clear objectives to focus a team and its work effort.

My last piece of advice is simply to remember our shared humanity and treat each other with dignity and respect. Whether I am working with you remotely or side-by-side in your hospital, I want you to know that I’m always accessible and eager to help you and your organization. That’s why I got into consulting in the first place, and it’s why I still love what I do.

Angela Cessna Webber is a certified Epic Radiant Analyst with implementation and build experience on projects at multiple hospitals and health systems.