In his 2009 keynote address at NextGen Healthcare’s annual customer meeting in Washington, D.C., Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said, “Health information technology means more than a switch from a paper to digital office. It’s a fundamental shift in the way medicine is practiced.”
This shift is particularly relevant to NextGen, a provider of electronic health record and practice management software and IT services for health care professionals. Its software aims to play a large part in making this sea change.
NextGen Healthcare is proactive in creating IT environments that make physicians’ offices and hospitals tightly networked. For example, software systems like NextGen’s give a physician’s practice — through the normal process of seeing a patient — an easy way to tap into a computerized file or quickly annotate a patient’s record and send all of the patient’s information that might be required to treat someone at a hospital.
Achieving that state of networked bliss, though, requires a keen understanding among a number of people. First, physicians, nurses and hospital staff want to quickly and easily learn how to use NextGen Healthcare’s software, especially since they mightily resist interruptions that take them away from their primary mission of caring for patients. Second, NextGen has to constantly keep a finger on the pulse of how doctors’ offices and hospitals are running their businesses so the software maker can update its wares to reflect the latest changes in patient procedures, regulations and processes. The fulcrum for making this happen is training.
“We’re constantly improving and enhancing our products with new features and functionality,” said Tara Schulz, director of education for NextGen Healthcare. “So every time a new version comes out, we want to make sure we efficiently train our staff and customers to maximize the use of it.”
The Challenge of Connecting Training
NextGen Healthcare’s mechanisms of creating, managing and delivering training weren’t always so tightly connected. In fact, while a tremendous amount of news is made every day about the purchase of learning technologies, there are far fewer stories about how these systems are interconnected, if at all.
For example, a recent search for the terms “learning content management system” (LCMS), “learning management system” (LMS) and “software simulation” via Factiva.com’s archive of news articles and press releases found 66 stories during a seven-day period. Of those 66 stories, the majority focused on the implementation of a single learning system to track training. While keeping tabs on who’s taken training and who’s been certified to carry out certain procedures is important, it’s a long way from the vision of a networked health care system or learning platform.
A few years ago, NextGen Healthcare realized this fact; its executives knew what they didn’t know.
With regard to training its customers, NextGen realized it faced three challenges. First, as NextGen and its customer list grew, the company looked for new ways to effectively deliver quality training to its customers. Second, it sought an efficient way to help its customers who wanted to train their new employees. Third, the company wanted to give its customers the flexibility to schedule their staff training around busy office schedules.
NextGen considered e-learning as a complement to the classroom instruction it gave its customers. But considering e-learning was just the first step up a ladder that gave NextGen a much wider view of where it could go with learning.
“We thought e-learning might extend the reach of our instruction. But we had no learning and development department to support this sort of thing,” Schulz said. “We knew we wanted to educate more customers, deliver our learning right after any software upgrade and do it all on a budget.”
As NextGen Healthcare explored e-learning, Schulz wanted technology to deliver courses online and a means by which to reuse content efficiently. Reusing content soon underpinned much of NextGen’s plan for its new learning approach.
“Reuse is especially important for a company that develops software, since our products build on what we’ve released in earlier versions,” Schulz said. “Our e-learning courses shouldn’t change entirely as we move from one version of our software to another.”
Schulz wanted a streamlined way to reuse the relevant things from an existing course and quickly add instruction on new features to the same course without doing it manually via a cut-and-paste approach.
A Collaborative Approach
As Schulz surveyed the market for learning technologies and reviewed proposals, she settled on a collaborative learning system called TrainingEdge.com, which is made by Boston-based OutStart. TrainingEdge offered Schulz an LCMS for course developers to develop, manage, maintain and deliver modular training; an LMS that automates registering for, tracking and delivering learning via the Internet; and a learning platform that connects employees and customers with one another so they can share ideas and resources.
Along with selecting a collaborative learning system, Schulz added OutStart SoftSim to create interactive simulations for Web- and Windows-based applications. “Giving our customers a simulation of our software was an effective way to teach,” Schulz said. “SoftSim gave us a way to quickly create complex simulations and capture every action a user might have to go through.”
Schulz says that the LCMS, LMS, collaborative learning platform and simulation software gave NextGen Healthcare all the facets for a learning and development program at a price in line with the company’s budget.
“We could build and manage content — not only e-learning content, but also manuals, CD-ROMs, PDFs and instructor guides,” said Schulz, “and we could efficiently manage updates to our learning; deploy courses in the way our users wanted; and manage the amount of instruction our customers took as well as the order in which they took it.”
Beyond the Classroom and Back Again
After putting in place its collaborative learning system, NextGen Healthcare’s customers began taking e-learning before classroom instruction. Because NextGen was able to cover much of the basic know-how about its software via online courses, the company’s trainers could use classroom work to focus on advanced concepts.
The investment in a collaborative learning system reaped an economic benefit for NextGen, too. After taking e-learning courses, customers came to class more familiar with NextGen and its products. This, said Schulz, meant customers were better equipped to set up the software. That fact alone has helped NextGen Healthcare trim the time the company used to spend implementing its software for clients.
Schulz estimates that since launching the collaborative learning system at NextGen, the company has created 400 online courses, 90 percent of which include simulations. NextGen Healthcare’s customers have completed a total of 355,000 courses via the system. And the number of customers enrolling in both classroom and e-learning courses has climbed 58 percent year over year.
When customers now buy one of NextGen’s products, they gain access to the collaborative learning system and can see an education path for the product that is tailored to their role — e.g., physician, nurse, clerk or system administrator — at a medical practice.
NextGen reports that its customers log approximately 2 million page views on the LMS each month. And Schulz requires only half of one team member’s time to support the LMS.
The measures put in place by NextGen Healthcare have increased the pace and flexibility of, as well as satisfaction with, customer education. And the software maker’s collaborative, networked approach to learning also has given it a way to quickly create training for customers the moment a new version of NextGen’s product hits the market.
“In four years, we’ve traveled from classroom training alone to a world where we can quickly create and deliver Web-based software learning and simulations to our customers the moment a new version of our product hits the market,” Schulz said. “That kind of agility is a result of having our collaborative learning system.”Filed under: Learning Delivery