From Michael Palko
Before we introduced a learning community, that’s what we relied on to educate our customers: luck and a little formal training.
In my role as a Solution Education Manager at Thomson Reuters, I am responsible for training our customers on how to use our software solutions. One of our products, CareFocus, is a clinical surveillance tool that allows hospitals to do real-time monitoring of their patient populations. This helps them to more easily identify patients with certain conditions in order to improve the quality of care, avoid medical errors, reduce length of stay and optimize reimbursement. I’m also responsible for managing an online community, consisting of customers using that tool. This “user group,” as it’s referred to, is made of IT staff, pharmacists, nurses, hospital educators, physicians, and those responsible for the variety of ongoing quality initiatives; really anyone who uses to the tool. It’s a closed community, meaning membership is by invitation only and must be approved by the community manager. Experience levels run the gamut from novice to super user.
Prior to starting this initiative about 2 years ago, we’d sell the tool to the hospital, implement it, train the software administrator via a web meeting, then pat them on the back and wish them well. When we followed up with them 6-12 months later, we’d always be surprised that they hadn’t done what we expected them to do. In retrospect, we shouldn’t have been surprised at all. We essentially gave them a tool, told them once how to use it and practiced with them for a combined total of 90 minutes, then left one or two people on their own to figure out the rest. Oh yeah, they also had full-time jobs to do. So, guess what happened when they tried to use the tool on their own? Right…very few were successful. Those that were had more time to devote to the trial and error of learning. Those who weren’t successful gave up after only a few tries, too burdened by their other duties and the 100+ page user guide. If we’d been listening more closely, we would have heard the wheels of progress grinding to a halt, if in fact they’d even begun to turn. The few successful customers we did have, got more of our attention and, voilà, grew even more successful. That led to them be asked to act as references for prospective customers. (And when I say “asked” I really mean “bombarded with requests.”)
We eventually came to a crossroads and decided that something needed to be done to increase the use of this (very valuable) product. Existing customers were considering not renewing their contracts because they couldn’t see the ROI in it. They weren’t finding the patients they’d hoped to find, mainly because the tool was collecting dust. Prospective customers wondered aloud why we didn’t have more reference-able customers. And so, a user group was created. The mantra would be “Support. Educate. Connect.” In addition to the technical support we offered, it would be used to help support their efforts to achieve the hospital’s strategic goals around quality of care and reimbursement. It would be used to provide continuing education on the features and functionality of the tool. And it would connect the business to the customer. We felt that if the company better understood how the customer wanted to use the tool, we could see just where the shortcomings were.
Well, it did just that…and more. What we overlooked was that not only would this connect the business to the customer, but it, even more importantly, connected customer to customer. And that’s when the REAL workplace learning began. All of the customers were trying to solve the same issues I outlined above. All of them had a tool that could help. But none of them were talking to one another! We instituted a monthly live web meeting. It took place on the same day and the same time each month; a predictable, planned time for learning. The phone lines remained open throughout to encourage comments and questions. In the web meeting, we demonstrated a “Tip of the Month” re-enforcing some feature or functionality. Each month, we also showcased the work of the community members: “Look at what Becky did. Here’s how she did it. Here’s the impact it made.” It made Becky feel good about the work she’d done, it showed Becky’s bosses that they were now getting a return on their investment, they were achieving more of their goals and it shined a positive spotlight on the hospital. Oh, yeah…it also gave EVERYONE in the community the blue print for success. Customers began copying from, er, collaborating with one another to reproduce those successes at their own facilities. People began asking to make presentations!
In addition to the web meetings, we also created an online forum for the discussion to continue in between meetings. It housed a library of the items shared in the monthly meetings. It held an archive of recordings of all of the meetings in the event members could not join in live or wanted to hear it again. It became a place for even more collaboration with members sharing works in progress and asking for help from the community to complete them. Each new facility was publically welcomed and each new member was purposefully introduced to others in the community who shared similar backgrounds or issues. We also instituted an e-mail “Did You Know…” newsletter, prompting members to return to the site to see the latest contributions and discussions. The new customers were talking with the long-time customers about lessons learned. People were getting ideas about how which patient populations to target and the issues they faced in providing care.
- Increased user adoption
- Finding success stories that previously would not have been uncovered
- Quicker times to success and to realizing return on investment
- Increase in the number of reference-able accounts
- New sales attributable to very existence of a learning community; a competitive differentiator
- One of the members being named to ModernHealthcare’s Top 25 Clinical Informaticists for 2010
- A pool of front-line staff ready, and eager, to give their opinion on proposed enhancements of the tool and on the product roadmap
- One member even went as far to say “The User Group is one of the most useful services Thomson Reuters provides with the CareFocus product. It’s been extremely valuable to learn how other facilities use CareFocus and we look forward to sharing ideas and profiles each month. It’s a great resource.”
- Better patient care in hospitals all across the country.
Did I mention that I learned, too? After working with the product for over 5 years, this learning community taught me a few things about the tool by their many creative uses for it.
In my opinion, this is a good example for real workplace learning. The members of the community don’t share the same workplace, but everyone shared the same work and issues surrounding it. Because a collaborative environment was created, everyone benefitted: the company, the customer and the patients they serve.
I’m looking forward to your comments and questions and to hearing about your success in implementing similar strategies.
Connect with me: