Cord Sturgeon’s Surgical Approach to Project One’s Implementation

Cord Sturgeon steered implementation of Project One for Northwestern Medicine's surgery departments

The team members of Project One. From left to right: Cord Sturgeon, Nancy Sassower, Steve LoBue, Lea Ann Arnold, Lacy Knight. Photo by Cass Davis

From his first day with Northwestern Medicine, Cord Sturgeon knew the EMR systems had to change.

“I remember the day I started at Northwestern in 2004,” Sturgeon says. “Someone showed me we had two different EMRs, and I said, ‘Who came up with this idea? Why are we doing this?’”

Eleven years later, Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s professor of surgery and physician informatics director would help lead the effort to guide and organize training for Northwestern staff across all surgical departments as it transitioned to Project One’s unified EMR system.

Cord Sturgeon, Northwestern Medicine Photo by Cass Davis

Before the project took off, Sturgeon knew it would be important to elicit feedback from surgical staff about what they disliked about the current system. Although the North, Central, and West regions of Northwestern Medicine had some overlapping concerns, the feedback Sturgeon and his team received also varied by location.

“In the Central region, for example, the biggest concern was that they had to use two different EMR systems,” Sturgeon says. “Those EMRs have different passwords, different order sets, and even different names for orders. It was a problem.”

Information sharing across regions was another pain point that Northwestern’s surgery staff wanted to improve upon with Project One.

“In the West region, physicians used Epic, but they send some patients downtown for complex procedures such as heart surgery or brain surgery,” he says. “However, physicians located downtown couldn’t easily view X-rays, blood work, or results of any other test physicians working out west had ordered.”

After gathering feedback, Sturgeon and his team were ready to start the transition to the new EMR. From the start, he knew it would be important to keep surgical staff apprised of any pertinent updates as Project One progressed. This meant attending meetings with the chairs and division chiefs, the surgical oversight committee, and every surgical division to ensure all necessary stakeholders were involved and kept in the loop on the transition to the new EMR system.

Sturgeon quickly discovered that the most daunting challenges of transitioning to the new EMR would be training thousands of staff members to use it and assuaging fears that physicians would lose data during the transition.

“Every single provider, advanced practice practitioner, doctor, resident, nurse, medical assistant, back-line staff, biller, coder, and patient service representative had to be trained,” Sturgeon says. “We had to hire an army of people to assist with the training, and they offered classes Monday through Saturday. We had to offer classes at odd hours to accommodate different shifts at the hospital, so there was a complex matrix of class times available to get everybody trained.”

Northwestern employees were required to complete three training sessions: a class for inpatient services, another for outpatient procedures, and one more personalized to their medical specialty. After finishing the three classes, staff members earned certification to use the new EMR.

As for reassuring physicians that data wouldn’t be lost during migration to the new system, Sturgeon had a simple response: the data wasn’t going anywhere.

Photo by Cass Davis

“When I went around talking to people about what’s going to happen to the old EMR, I would tell them it’s not going away,” he says. “You can log in to it even after the new system goes live and all the data will be there. I think that reassured a lot of people.”

Sturgeon also leveraged some of the new features that would be a part of the improved EMR as a selling point to his colleagues. Among the new features were Dragon Dictation and Haiku, the ability to see diagnostic imaging from any of Northwestern’s facilities, and the implementation of smart phrases.

In particular, Sturgeon sees Dragon Dictation as a tool that will streamline physicians’ workflow throughout the organization. It allows physicians to create notes by speaking into their cell phones, and the app automatically will create a progress note within a patient’s chart. And these aren’t just Sturgeon’s predictions. Even only a few months after implementation, he is seeing the significant impact the new EMR system is having on surgeons and their ability to care for patients.

“I remember a patient who had come to Northwestern Memorial Hospital from one of our community hospitals for treatment of a complex cancer,” Sturgeon says. “When the patient arrived, even though it was 5 p.m. on a Friday, the Cancer Center physicians downtown were blown away that they could see all of the images that had been taken at the other hospital, and they could see all of the patient’s lab and biopsy results. It allowed them to efficiently come up with a treatment plan for the patient’s cancer.”

He adds, “It’s immensely valuable for the doctor and patient that you don’t waste time digging through outside records or sifting through data that is not meaningful. This EMR allows you to sort and view the information that is pertinent to the diagnosis being treated.”