Super-Users: an independent’s underutilized opportunity

Jan 24, 2020

Invest in tech-savvy employees to bring more value to your practice.

It’s a situation we encounter often in our work with independent practices: there’s one special person in the office who seems uniquely able to tame the tech beast and winds up helping everyone else. Sometimes, this person is a medical assistant who always catches on fast to the EHR’s new features. The “tech whisperer” could also be a biller who has quietly figured out how to cajole the practice management system into revealing its most useful tricks, or a front desk employee who hears about useful tech add-ons in place at other practices and immediately sees their potential. 

This is typically an informal thing. The employee doesn’t have “IT” in their job description. Everyone just knows who to turn to for help when they can’t get technology to behave. 

Enter the “superuser”

The emergence of such a pattern in your practice is an opportunity. These motivated employees have the potential to become “superusers.” Recognizing them as such can yield big benefits for your practice. 

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What, exactly, is a superuser? In a nutshell, superusers are subject matter experts who gain additional expertise in technology so that they can help bridge the gap between their peers in their field and technology developers. In a hospital, for example, nurses commonly train to become EHR superusers. Because they understand both clinical priorities and the system, they can help their clinical colleagues overcome problems and use the system more easily.

Not just for big hierarchies: Superusers in independent practices

Superusers are an accepted part of the strategy for rolling out technology in large organizations, whether in healthcare or outside our industry. This type of role is less common in smaller organizations, though; at first blush it may seem too costly to define such a role in an independent practice, but it’s possible to recognize your tech-savvy employees’ contributions and craft a superuser role for them that’s appropriately sized and bounded for an independent practice. In doing so, you can make your tech stars’ jobs more meaningful, improve their engagement, and retain them longer. And, of course, you’ll enable your practice get more value from your significant investments in tech.

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Here are a few ways to create an effective superuser role in your practice.

  • It starts with recognition. Naming and championing superusers immediately acknowledges the extra work they’ve been doing and the expertise they’ve acquired. Ironically, giving them a new career achievement they can include on their resumes may actually make these employees more committed and less likely to look for advancement potential with a new employer.

  • Invest in them. Many tech vendors offer courses, conferences, and even certifications to help superusers increase and refine their skills. They can then use their skills to elevate your entire practice’s technology utilization.

  • Manage their workload. When you encourage these employees to embrace their superuser status, it’s almost certain their workload will increase, leaving less time for what you originally hired them for. Over time, you may find that it makes sense for your superusers to focus mainly on technology-meaning you’ll need to replace them in their original jobs. But until that point, protect your superusers from excess stress by helping them divide their time and setting limits on how much attention the rest of your employees can expect. And if you’re in a period when tech must take priority, such as during the rollout of a system upgrade or addition of new technology, considering offering other employees the chance to work a few overtime hours or bring in temp help, so that your superusers have time available to focus on these more involved tech needs. 

  • Protect them from abuse. In their role as go-between, your superusers may experience a lot of complaining from physicians and staff who are struggling with technology. If this happens in your practice, protect your superusers from burnout by reminding your physicians and staff that superusers are on your team-they’re not employees of your tech vendors, and they’re not responsible for bugs or delays that make things run less than smoothly.

  • Let superusers reveal themselves. We’ve found that as practices see the value of superusers to smooth tech transitions for everyone else, the idea of having one or more on staff becomes more appealing. But true superusers need a genuine affinity for technology and problem-solving. Resist the temptation to force a square peg into a round hole. The best candidates for superuser roles will reveal their interest and motivation naturally.

Laurie Morgan, MBA is a partner and senior consultant for Capko & Morgan. Her consulting focuses on practice management effectiveness and practice profitability. She is the author of the book People, Technology, Profit: Practical Ideas for a Happier, Healthier Practice business as well as the Management Rx series of e-books, and blogs at capko.com/blog.

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