Engage Users for Effective EHR Training

As a training specialist with over 20 Cerner Go-Lives under my belt, I have worked with thousands of individuals in healthcare organizations to ensure they were trained and ready to transition to a new electronic health records solution. And not surprisingly, I have encountered some reluctant students over the years. Some healthcare professionals claim to be too busy or distracted to engage in their requisite training, while others are openly resistant to the new system and even disruptive around other users.

Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle, but my job is to adapt and earn the trust and confidence of all of my students. Below are some of my tips for creating effective learning environments, including three fundamentals that guide me in every training assignment.

Engage End Users

Long lectures don't cut it. Training end users on a new EHR needs to be an interactive process to ensure that students pay attention and actively remember the training content. A mentally checked-out student is essentially the same as someone who was never trained at all.

Here are three tips to help increase engagement.

Make it relevant. Be clear about what’s expected in the class and which topics will be discussed. Use relevant examples and ensure that everything is applicable to your end users. Explain why the end users need to know something. If your usual examples aren’t relevant, then adapt them and discuss how they could still be relevant.

Encourage participation. Use ice breakers or discussion topics to encourage people to speak up. Once end users speak in front of the group, they’re more likely to continue participating during the class. Ice breakers can also give moments of levity and comradery among participants, which helps soothe anxiety they’re experiencing about the class. I like to ask for recommendations for places to eat or things to do in the area. This provides a lot of room for discussion, as people chime in to agree with one suggestion or to provide another –and it gives me an extensive list of places that I can visit during my free time.

Ask questions. Encourage end users to add their experiences to the lesson, ask open-ended questions, or prompt other students to share. I like to use this as a way to transition to a new aspect of the lesson. For example, before teaching where documentation is stored and how to properly utilize the tools in that area of the chart, I ask end users how to access the most recent physician note. Typically there’s a brief pause before end users start clicking around. I get both correct and incorrect answers, but either way I get end users engaged and invested in the lesson. However, don’t put end users on the spot if they are clearly uncomfortable, and don’t call on students who seem distracted. Instead, approach these students during a break to access their comfort with the material and/or discover the source of the distraction.

Accommodate Learning Styles

Everyone has a different learning style, or even a mix of learning styles. Incorporating different exercises into training that appeal to each learning style helps ensure the overall success of the class.

There are ultimately three main learning styles to accommodate.

Visual. For visual learners, make sure there are plenty of demonstrations on the topic. When creating presentations, don’t just use blocks of text; include images, graphs, and diagrams. Give end users material with step-by step-instructions that include plenty of visually appealing items that they can refer to.

Auditory. Be very clear in your instructions when working with auditory learners. Be prepared to use multiple examples to ensure their understanding. That way, if one example seems to fall flat, you can use another example that may make more sense to them. Try your best to avoid becoming monotone; place emphasis on important concepts and ask questions.

Kinesthetic or Tactile. Try to include something for these learners to physically touch or do. Scheduled practice time where end users can explore the software on their own ends up being much more helpful to them than a lecture. If this isn’t possible, then try to provide note-taking material or items to fidget with, such as fidget spinners, stress balls, or talking sticks. 

Encourage Positive Attitudes

A positive attitude may be the most important thing to have when learning a new EHR. If someone goes into a class expecting to fail, or to hate the new system, then they will do just that. They will fixate more on the negatives and will remember those things more than any other subject discussed during their training. To mitigate such situations, implement strategies to encourage positive attitudes and keeping a positive tone throughout training.

Be reassuring. Learning a new software can be tough and intimidating. There is a catharsis in venting out fears and frustrations, and this can be very helpful at times. However, letting negative attitudes and fears set the tone for an entire training is counterproductive. To create a more conducive learning environment, listen to end users’ misgivings and reassure them that there will always be someone to provide support as they switch to a new EHR. As overwhelming as the new system may seem, that feeling will disappear the more they use it – and ultimately they will be more productive.

For example, when I train Ambulatory users to create patient intake forms, our first effort always takes a while, since I’m explaining all the functionality. For the second form, end users work in pairs, with one end user performing the intake while the other answers the questions as if they were a patient in the visit. If time permits, I  have the pair switch roles so each user gets a chance to do a second intake.

For the third intake, I ask users to do the same thing, but as a follow-up visit.  At this point, they usually fly through the form, and grow in confidence.

Personalize your responses. Every end user will take to the training a little differently. Encourage and celebrate the wins for everyone. Be patient with those struggling and give them a little extra help. Encourage collaboration between end users whenever possible.

Keep things positive. Don’t let end users fall into a negative mindset because of their expectation for themselves or the software. Remind them that perfection isn’t a requirement or the expectation of training. Treat errors or mistakes as learning experiences for the entire group.  When training, incorporate examples of the system saving them time or how the end user will get better with practice.

Andrea O'Brien is a Cerner Certified EHR Trainer and ATE Support Specialist who has completed over 20 Go Live assignments at hospitals and clinics throughout the U.S.