There are plenty of ways to share information across a large healthcare organization during an EHR implementation. One of the most effective, in my experience, are Town Hall meetings where users can ask questions and hear directly from leadership about the status and goals of the implementation.
When done well, Town Halls should result in staff engagement and increased confidence in the new EHR. For project leaders, the questions they hear can help uncover areas of concern that may need to be addressed prior to Go-Live through additional communication or training.
My advice below for Town Hall success is based on years of experience hosting such events in a variety of settings at multiple health systems. I encourage you to download this Town Hall checklist as a guide for planning your own meetings.
I like to conduct at least three Town Halls: the first 90 days prior to activation, the second between 60-45 days out and a third 30-20 days before activation.
That first meeting is especially critical because it’s a time when end-users begin to have a real sense of impending change. The Town Hall becomes an important forum to answer questions, address rumors, give reassurances and build excitement for the new system.
>> Download Your Town Hall checklist
Meetings can be organized by role or site-based. They can be held in-person and/or by web meeting or broadcast, if your organization has the technology. A webcast allows multiple sites to participate in the Town Hall simultaneously.
Town Hall Layout
An in-person Town Hall meeting can be organized in typical panel discussion layout with about 50-100 participants. A meeting with too many in-person attendees can be unwieldy and may not allow for everyone’s questions to be addressed.
Have multiple microphones around the room for the audience to use and a table in front where the panelists can see and speak directly with the audience. Physician- and Provider-focused Town Halls are often best conducted in smaller groups and informal settings, like at a clinic.
Set the Agenda
Topics for your town halls will vary by organization and audience as well as the specific circumstances of your implementation, but don’t let that variability be an excuse to have a loose or free-form agenda. To conduct an hour-long meeting, use the sample agenda below:
- Welcome and thank the audience for attending (3 minutes) - Operational Leader
- Ground rules and introduce the panel participants (4 minutes) - Facilitator
- An quick update on any relevant upcoming activities w/timeline (3 minutes) - Facilitator
- Brief demo of the system that is audience and implementation-phase specific (10 minutes) - Program Team Members
- Open audience Q & A (40 Minutes)
One of the biggest challenges in an hour-long meeting is to keep the first twenty minutes tight and on schedule. Town halls are fundamentally for audience Q & A and you want to leave ample time for everyone to say what’s on their mind.
Your panels for a Town Hall will vary and should align with the phase of the implementation and the makeup of the audience. You may require 10+ panelists for large generalized town halls with a broad audience, but only 3 to 5 panelists for small group meetings, such as those for providers at a clinic.
Examples of the typical roles to include on the panel are:
- Program Leader
- Operational Leader
- Clinical Champions
- Training and LMS leaders
- System and Technology leaders
- Access and Revenue leaders
- Application Expert
Prepare your panelists for success by giving them several weeks notification in advance of the event and confirming their attendance closer to the actual date. In the half-hour before the event, coach the panel on best practices for building rapport with the audience: for example, keeping responses brief (2 minutes or less) and conversational, and answering individuals with direct eye contact and a smile.
It takes a team to successfully pull off these events. In additional to your expert panelists, organizations should identify:
- A seasoned meeting facilitator to keep the Town Hall running smoothly and encourage audience participation
- A scribe or note taker to document action items, capture unanswered questions for follow-up, and to create an FAQ from the panel responses to post on the organizational intranet
- Technical support for audio/video and webcasting needs
- A marketing liaison to post any recording or synopsis of the event and to promote upcoming Town Halls
Going the extra mile
A few ways to enhance the audience experience at the Town Hall are to include a light snacks and drinks, and play music before the event begins. Ask for questions in advance – for those who are not comfortable speaking in front of their peers or leaders. These questions could be read by the facilitator and answered by the panelists anytime there are no questions being asked by the audience.
Let the audience and panelists know their contributions and time are valued by sending out a follow-up survey the next day, and posting the known FAQs within two days. And last but not least, promptly find the answer to any question that went unanswered at the Town Hall and contact the person with the answer within a week of the Town Hall occurring.
Vicki Davis is Healthcare IT Leaders VP, EHR Activation and Training. She has led large-scale training and delivery teams at Providence Health and Systems and Stanford Health and has overseen classroom-based and online learning programs for tens of thousands of end-users over the past decade.