When launching a solution-oriented healthcare IT project for a hospital or health system, there are several roles that need to be assigned right away. These include (at minimum): Technical Project Manager, Executive Sponsor, and Program Manager. If that last role is new to you, you’re not alone. What exactly is Program Management in health IT? That’s what we’ll explain in today’s post, as well as differentiate this role from the Project Manager to reveal how both can cultivate success.

Program Management Defined

We’re typically no strangers to the need for project management in almost any industry. Someone needs to herd the cats, as we say, and keep oversight of the budget against deliverable, milestones, etc. Where a Program Manager is unique is in their breadth of oversight. Especially if hospitals are implementing community-wide interoperability solutions to connect a care delivery network for optimal patient care, there needs to be at least one resource who is charged with connecting the dots across the span of vendors, interfaces, and provider organizations. Program Management is less in-the-weeds on a given milestone in favor of focusing on aligning business needs with technical requirements and solution plans. They drive the bigger project while PMs may assist with specific aspects of the technical development and implementation to provide depth of oversight.

Healthcare IT Project Management VS. Program Management

It is generally not recommended that the Program Manager is serving as a day-to-day Project Manager on a given project to avoid dilution of focus, so let’s understand how these roles vary with some examples.

One-to-Many Division Of Labor

There may be one or several project managers who direct certain aspects of the integration efforts, such as a given vendor or interface that requires special attention or skill set. The Program Manager, on the other hand, will remain concerned with the end-to-end solution and operational/business goals. More than one program management role in a given project is unwise. Too many cooks in the kitchen.

Broad Leadership VS. Tailored Skill Set

It may be paradoxical to think that the lead on a given healthcare IT project may actually be less specialized in terms of skill set, but there are many advantages to the Program Manager possessing a diverse background versus narrow mastery. Issue resolution calls for creative thinking and the ability to manage people well, and this often comes from work experience across roles or even industries. (There’s an entire book about this, in fact.)

However, it can be very advantageous for project managers to know inside and out the vendors or solutions they’re working with to drive deadlines and successful Go-Live. For example, a PM may be able to document requirements for Epic upgrades in their sleep, while the Program Manager is less familiar with Epic but better suited to drive an implementation of a community-wide, EHR-agnostic HIE. They are better together and uniquely suited to deliver an optimal solution.

The Benefit Of A Technical Program Manager

White it’s true that not every healthcare IT project may warrant a distinct program management resource, we would insist that any project including 3+ vendors is a prime candidate to bring on a Program Manager. We hear often that Technical PMs are burned out from too many moving parts, and that’s when critical steps are missed that threaten both the timeline and the budget. In the absence of a prime program management candidate in-house, hospitals can leverage healthcare IT partners via staff augmentation to fill the gap, even if just for the duration of the project. A well-supported IT team can do exceedingly great things!