groupEmma Barker, Merilyn Riley

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Emma Barker

‘With the recent outbreak of COVID-19 (‘Coronavirus (COVID-19)’, 2020), organisations faced a grand challenge of unparalleled proportions, one that forced them to dive into and directly manage unprecedented territory as they altered their workforce in technical, physical and socio-psychological ways not seen before’ (Carnevale and Hatak, 2020).

History will recall 2020 as a year that brought about new challenges and massive overhauls to the very way we work, teach, socialise, and interact.  As COVID-19 lockdowns called for staying home, they also demanded new approaches to working, teaching, and learning. Speak to any Health Information Manager (HIM) and they will likely tell you the way they work has been transformed.

Mostly, those who work in health information management were sheltered from the pressures of an insecure workplace environment.  That is something for which most of us can be very thankful.  Instead, we had to rapidly transition to working from home, possibly encompassing home schooling, adapting our living space to a workspace, or grappling with social disruption as our normal work practices were interrupted and loneliness and self-isolation may have set in.  

In this COVID space, the importance of community and communication are highlighted.  Even as a remote worker, we are still part of a bigger entity and organisational support can play a large part in our emotional response to the changes wrought by the pandemic.  As stated by Lee (2020) ‘…the approach of the online communication (as a form of organisation support) practiced by the managers has implications on the different levels of psychological safety experienced by the employee.’

As a health information management discipline at university, we have weekly meetings to discuss issues and to check in and catch up. In 2020 (and beyond) these have been also transformed into Zoom meetings, where each week we shared our challenges and tribulations during lockdown. We began to discuss ‘windows of wellness’ each week, which were things, no matter how big or small, that helped us during isolation. These ranged from long weekend walks (within five kilometres in the very thick of the Victorian lockdown 2.0), virtual birthday parties and wine tasting, baking and other domestic duties we often find we neglect when we are in and out of the office.

In 2020, many of our final year student placements were pivoted into remote placements and many placements in the earlier year levels were postponed until lockdowns were lifted. Typically, final year students ‘work’ within a hospital or organisational setting in person, networking across the organisation, investigating information flow, analysing data, interrogating systems, auditing practices and so on.  In 2020, two thirds of these final year placements were experienced through the digital lens. Remote, or virtual, placements became a reality. We learned that placement from home saved travel time that could be used more efficiently, that having the appropriate equipment and workstation greatly enhanced or detracted from a student’s ability to complete their placement project and that regular communication was pivotal to ensuring success.

Microsoft Teams and Zoom became popular ways to conduct team meetings and maintain contact between remote students and sometimes remote supervisors. Many students reported having daily virtual meetings, some even eating lunch together and catching up to supplement the loss of socialisation in the workplace. Some students found Microsoft Team chats as a simple and quick way to check in, others preferred email communication, so everything was written down (alas, budding HIMs indeed) and some found the trusty old phone call the best way to clarify tasks.

As a result of this shift, academic supervisors offered weekly or fortnightly virtual catchups with students. This was used to check in, discuss challenges and determine whether the students were receiving the support they needed. Often, these catchups would turn into just that; catch-ups for life in general, what was happening and how they were coping.  One of our most popular initiatives was the introduction of the online ‘Community of Practice’ where final year students could come together and share with each other about their placement experiences, discuss contemporary issues in health information management (some of them on set topics) and engage with one another and academic staff.

In informal conversations with students, we found they struggled with some aspects of the remote placement more than others. Something that stuck with us was when students commented they could progress with the placement easily enough, but it was the informal conversations they overheard when they were on-site in an organisation or had in the common areas that gave context to the organisation and allowed them to understand the intricacies of the work they were doing, that were truly missed.

Despite the exhausting, surreal challenges of the 2020 global COVID pandemic, we have by and large found that we are (mostly) adaptive, innovative, and committed.  Technology became our friend to enable us to connect during isolation.  Our digital community became more important than ever.   While our emotions sometimes took a roller-coaster ride, we took comfort in small achievements and ‘windows of wellness’.  To all HIMs and readers who have struggled in their homes and workplaces to keep things going in the midst of revolutionary workplace and worldwide changes, be assured that you are not alone.  There is a community of HIMs and other colleagues who have all shared this experience with you. Here we are now, mid-2021, and these challenges are still with us. We have all become experts in virtual communication and used the pandemic to adapt and create new avenues of working, teaching, and studying.

In this issue, we hear many different perspectives of the 2020 health information management experience: from placements to teaching, from studying to workplaces. We hear of things we might never have thought to be an issue in this modern day and age: challenges in virtual healthcare, following strict infection control procedures outside of the clinical space and enacting disaster management plans. We discover how organisations, such as the Health Information Management Association of Australia, had to rethink the delivery of professional development sessions, often delivered face-to-face and acting as a meet and greet to build networks, connections, and rapport. We follow organisations’ journeys of going paperless in environments that, up until 2020, had still been predominantly paper-based. We hear of the struggles and triumphs of working from home; things of which we are still all too familiar with. We explore how Covid-19 and its flow on effects are classified using ICD-10-AM. 

2020 is surely not a year we will forget anytime soon.


References

  • Carnevale JB and Hatak I (2020) Employee adjustment and well-being in the era of COVID-19: Implications for human resource management. Journal of Business Research 116: 183-187. doi: 10.1016/j.jbusres.2020.05.037.
  • Lee H (2021) Changes in workplace practices during the COVID-19 pandemic: the roles of emotion, psychological safety and organisation support. Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance 8(1): 97-128. doi: 10.1108/JOEPP-06-2020-0104.

Authors

Emma Barker, BHthSC, MHlthInfoMgt

Associate Lecturer

La Trobe University

Plenty Rd & Kingsbury Dr, Bundoora

Melbourne VIC 3086

Tel: 61 3 9479 3500

Email: e.barker@latrobe.edu.au

 

Merilyn Riley, BAppSc(MRA); BTh; GDipEpi & BioStat

Senior Lecturer (Discipline Lead, Course Co-ordinator (undergraduate), Course Advisor (postgraduate), Professional Practice Co-ordinator)

La Trobe University

Plenty Rd & Kingsbury Dr, Bundoora

Melbourne VIC 3086

Tel: 61 3 9479 2093

Email: merilyn.riley@latrobe.edu.au