Change is a good thing, especially in the business of providing healthcare. Yet change management in healthcare is a tall order, even when advances in technology and research can mean saving lives. Why? Because we humans are creatures of habit and, even when the benefits of needed change are evident, we tend to resist what is new or unfamiliar.
Automation is one advancement that feels new and unfamiliar at first, but once it starts working for and with healthcare professionals, the question changes from “why do we need this?” to “why didn’t we start using this sooner?” Perhaps that’s why automation in healthcare is a great vehicle we can use to drive change management in your healthcare organization.
Before we can get your team to asking “why didn’t we start using this sooner?” we should start with answering a key question first.
What is Change Management in Healthcare?
The definition of change management in healthcare is the guiding of people – individuals and teams who are used to pre-established ways of doing things – into learning and using new tools, features, and processes to accomplish their work and be successful at their roles.
Change management provides a structure for easing employees, contractors, suppliers, vendors, and patients into the new way of doing things with the least amount of stress, upheaval, and friction possible.
Why Is Healthcare Change Management Important?
For any industry, change management is important (though often not prioritized as it should be) because the upheaval caused by the unfamiliar has far-reaching impacts upon the people involved. Those impacts can range from very bad to very good, and the determining factor is how effectively the change is managed.
Now consider change management in a healthcare setting: patients and their loved ones are the customers, and people in the healthcare organization provide them with life-saving care and treatment day and night. The weight of that responsibility is already heavy, and then a substantive change is introduced that will directly affect healthcare providers. Consider that 73% of change-affected employees report experiencing moderate to high stress levels. If the last thing we want is for patient healthcare to be negatively impacted because the people involved with their treatment are distracted or even disgruntled, the first thing we should do is ensure that changes driven into an organization are done so with adequate preparation, support, and thoughtfulness.
So again, why is change management in the healthcare setting important? Let’s count the ways.
- Change happens to people. Even in an industry like healthcare, which is so dependent upon tools and machinery to deliver health, the person-to-person aspect is still the cornerstone of healthcare today. If the people immersed in an organizational change are not bought into or supportive of what’s happening, implementing the change successfully is less likely. Healthcare change management must occur at the individual level to empower employees and patients, as well as 3rd party participants, to adopt and even drive the changes forward.
- Change is tough. You will never be able to deliver change across a group of people and get the same exact reaction from each of them. From awkwardness and angst to loss and resistance, the negative responses to the introduction of change should be on your radar and even expected. While it might feel easier to focus only on the people who welcome an adjustment, large or small, ignoring the individuals who need support and guidance to embrace change is sure to hinder your progress and even create lasting challenges. By using a nurturing rather than forced change management approach, you’ll help ease the adjustments as they happen.
- Change disrupts everything. “Out with the normal, in with the new!” It looks good on paper, and might even feel good as a rallying cry, but the truth of change in a healthcare setting is that it disrupts people, places, and things across the organization. Disruption is a mixed bag: even with excellent intentions and outcomes, it also carries discomfort and even fear as symptoms of progress. Effective healthcare change management can provide care along the way even as apprehension and loss of control is felt by the people participating in being affected by the changes.
- Change management is an opportunity to communicate. When an organization begins a change, and thus when the people in the organization are brought into a change, it’s crucial to adopt a “talk” instead of “tell” approach for your healthcare change management. Communication works best when it’s two-way, and especially as employees, suppliers, vendors, and even patients are being thrust into change it’s crucial to embrace them as a part of the change rather than feeling change is being forced upon them with no input. By making people feel heard through honest dialogue and coordination, your change management approach may vastly improve your organization’s morale and culture from before the change began.
- Change management is crucial for healthcare success. From the first patient visit to the final CEO decision of each day, change management has the potential to impact every person in every role on every team. Whether directly or indirectly, each aspect of your healthcare organization will be touched by the change you implement and thus managing that change is vital to your company’s vitality.
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What Are the Biggest Challenges in Healthcare Change Management?
We should pause here to mention that it’s not a question of if change will happen to healthcare; it’s when. In fact, if you’re a healthcare professional reading this article, you can look at the past several months alone and agree that change is already a constant in your healthcare universe. In the spirit of helping you be prepared for all of the changes coming your way, and thus to be the most effective with your healthcare change management, let’s look at the change challenges the health industry faces.
Changes to Regulations
Healthcare is right up there with legal and finance as far as industries that are rife with regulations. Complying with mandates from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration, and with the changes made to those regulations, means that change rolls throughout countless healthcare organizations, their procedures, and their personnel. And missing or failing to comply with regulations leads to steep penalties and costs.
Changes to How Patients Seek Healthcare
“House calls” by doctors is far in our past, and even a few years ago we could barely imagine the wonders of telemedicine visits today. Those are just a couple of examples of how patients are shifting their approach and thinking about how they find healthcare solutions. Transparency in billing, sanitary facilities, less invasive surgeries, and electronic medical records are all changes healthcare organizations have rapidly learned to accommodate (and in some cases are still working on facilitating) so ensure patient confidence and safety.
Changes to Technology
We wouldn’t think of using a mercury thermometer to take a patient’s temperature today. Digital devices are now the norm, and healthcare is an industry that has always had to stay ahead of the curve in technological advancements and use. Healthcare workers today now wield digital thermometers, tablets, wearables, and even robotic equipment to deliver health treatments and care to patients. Imagine simply taking away a paper chart and handing a healthcare worker a tablet without showing them how to use the medical apps on it: healthcare change management is necessary to make technology work the way it’s supposed to by the people who are supposed to use it.
Changes to Costs and Efficiency
Healthcare costs are always in the spotlight and thus reducing them is a constant area of change and focus. Cost savings can be realized through improved efficiency, and healthcare change management is key to providing ways – such as automating specific processes and tasks – that people and procedures can work faster and more smoothly.
How to Manage Change in Healthcare with Automation
Now that we’ve covered the what and why of how to manage change in healthcare, let’s get into the how! Besides, we wouldn’t want to remind you repeatedly how important change management in healthcare is for your organization without providing you with the very ways you can manage change. In the true spirit of effective change management, we give you the ways you can be a part of successful change in your organization for everyone’s benefit.
1. Anticipate How Change Will Affect Company Culture
This is often the last step an organization takes in managing change when it should be the very first thing on the list. Changes to your company will absolutely impact your company culture because they impact the people in your company. Consider polling or surveying key individuals or teams to measure responses to the forthcoming change, and don’t stop there. Ask your employees what they think you can do as an organization to manage change in healthcare.
2. Set Goals and Define Benefits of Change
Before you start a marathon, seeing the finish line is a great motivator for all it will take to get there. You can reduce employee resistance to your healthcare’s change by giving them a vision of what their life and work will be like – and how they will be benefitted – once the change is completed.
Take your IT team as an example. They are the team that can make sure productivity is maintained; if they are delayed or confused, every other employee that touches technology will in turn be delayed and confused. When you effectively provide change management in healthcare IT, you’re adequately preparing a key team to support and adopt a change they will be instrumental in implementing for you.
3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Before you even think about starting the change implementation, create your communication plan and touchpoints for each step of the way. This should include email announcements, engagement touchpoints (quick surveys or polls), instructions, troubleshooting guidance, contact information, and education. Most of all, be transparent about every stage of the process. You can signal through consistent communication in your healthcare change management that you have everything under control and every possibility considered, thus giving your employees a sense of stability even as the change happens.
4. Include Seasoned Staff as Your Agents of Change
If your executive team members are the only personnel managing change in your healthcare organization, you’re going to hit snags. Particularly for enterprise healthcare companies, it’s unlikely that C-level executives know every step of the inner workings of each department. That’s why you need to create a committee or team that spans across roles and includes seasoned employees who can help manage change in a number of ways: identify gaps, anticipate issues, influence colleagues, and adopt adjustments as they come.
5. Educate About the Transformation
Consider an employee starting their first day of work in your healthcare organization. Surely you have an onboarding process and training curriculum for them to complete as they begin, right? The same approach should be used for how you manage change in healthcare. Develop and provide training sessions for your change management team (who can serve as great beta testers), and then deliver training to all people in your organization who will impacted by the change. Allow for questions and troubleshooting, and continue educating about the change even as it is rolled out and once it is completed.
6. Receive Employee Feedback
Remember for your employees that change is not “just business;” because it affects their day-to-day role in your company, any change to that is absolutely personal. Open the gates to receive feedback from your staff, anonymously or by name, which you can then in turn use to improve your change management process. Empowering your employees to speak their mind may help you pivot and adjust your approach in time to avoid major missteps.
7. Foster a Culture of Continual Growth
If your changes are initially met with resistance, by executing effective change management for your healthcare organization you can build a thriving culture at your company that embraces growth. In fact, seeing change as a way to grow can translate across your staff as a green light to develop themselves professionally just as the company they work for develops itself through change.
8. Change… and Time
As you manage change in your healthcare organization, remember the adage that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Your systems, processes, and people will all need time to fully learn, adapt to, and embrace change. As far as results, you will likely need to be patient and wait to see the outcomes and benefits you helped your teams envision at the start. Remember that growing pains are a natural part of any change process.
Benefits of Effective Change Management in Healthcare
This is the good part of change management in healthcare! After all, you’d hardly want to adopt something new that is going to lead to worse outcomes. You implement a change because it should make at least one aspect of your business better. Automation in healthcare is a welcome change that carries many benefits, all of which you can clearly communicate to your teams as part of your change management.
- Improved patient experiences. Your patients are well aware of how complex their healthcare can be and automating the processes that touch them will have a positive impact on their perception of your healthcare organization and staff, as well as on their personal health and livelihood. Automation is shown to increase speed and accuracy while reducing errors, all of which results in better patient outcomes. That’s a welcome result of any healthcare change management!
- Increased employee morale. Your staff spend at least part of each day on mundane tasks that could easily be handled by automation. As you remove those tasks from their plate and hand them off to an automated process through your healthcare change management, your employees will be freed up to focus their creativity and energy on patient care and new projects.
- More growth opportunities. From professional development of your employees to new business development of your company, automation paves the way for growth as it streamlines processes and creates more time to focus on building your business.
- Enhanced efficiency. Time is money, and when you can save time you also rescue your company’s bottom line. By using change management to introduce automation into your healthcare organization, you add efficiency to existing processes that can shave minutes or even hours off of your organization’s routines.
- Centralized processes. Silos can slay efficiency in any healthcare organization as separate teams work on similar tasks and systems that might not be talking to each other. A clear benefit of bringing automation into your healthcare processes is the removal of silos and the building of streamlined processes. Every person in your healthcare organization will be able to see the full picture, removing the likelihood of errors or double-work.
We realize that when change is afoot for any organization, especially in healthcare, a natural reaction from the people being impacted is to ask questions and resist what’s coming. Through effective change management in healthcare, and especially when the change being introduced is automation, you can ensure the new and unfamiliar soon becomes the thing your employees can’t imagine living without.
MHC can help you with every facet of the change management you’ll need to add automation to your healthcare processes. We can help you structure your approach and prepare your teams for the benefits of healthcare automation to that final outcome where they’re asking, “why didn’t we start doing this sooner?” If you’re now asking how exactly MHC can solve the challenges facing your healthcare business, let’s answer that next.