Change is a fact of life. Yet the degree to which change is occurring in healthcare is astounding. From Affordable Care Act requirements to the array of medical research and new treatment options, providers have been overwhelmed by the pace of transformative change. So, when change needs to occur at an organization or medical practice, how should leaders approach it?
Whether that change requires embracing new technology or the adoption of new policies, leaders must communicate the reasons behind the change and connect people to strategy in order to help them assimilate the change and understand the benefits and impact on the business. Implementing change management best practices facilitates this process and helps staff more easily and quickly make a personal transition from a current to a future mindset.
Overcoming roadblocks to change
Change efforts among physicians and providers falter when leadership stumbles into some common pitfallsincluding:
- Failure to describe and communicate the problem; its personal impact on physicians, providers, and staff; and what exactly individuals are being asked to change within their daily workflow
- Failure to determine the root cause of the problem before working to solve it
- Delaying engagement with providers until after the solution has been decided
- Solution bias and over-confidence in the chosen approach
- Inadequate support through the change; failure to address the communication and training needs and provide at-the-elbow experts during implementation and additional staffing to maintain productivity
- Failure to recognize the personal investments made by physicians and providers and their successful adoption of the change benefitting the organization or practice
- Failure to consider and align with other concurrent organizational changes
Getting your team on board
The first step in engaging your employees in the change process is the recognition that change is required. Leaders should assess practice culture, including the history of change in the organization, enablers or barriers, and whether stakeholders expect to be asked or told to determine the best way to initiative the change process among your employees.
The following tips can help you take your organization or practice through any change:
Forming the strategy
- Identify the specific problem you are trying to solve. Frame it in a way in which people will understand and agree on the problem and convey what will happen if the problem goes unaddressed.
- Engage physician and provider leaders. Create open dialogue and show empathy. Affirm that you understand the myriad challenges they face and ask for their advice and partnership in trying to solve this issue. Solicit their engagement in finding the solution, becoming experts in it, helping the rest of their colleagues adopt the change as it happens, and understanding resourcing needs afterwards.
- Choose solutions wisely. Use proven data-informed techniques, such as Lean or 6-Sigma, to guide improvement and thoroughly review technology products with a large group of physicians, providers and other relevant end user staff. All time spent choosing the right solution to the problem is invaluable and saves your organization exponentially down the road.
Planning for the change
- Clarify each person’s role in the change process. Prepare an inventory of roles and customize a change plan for each. Participants without workflow change can nevertheless be impacted secondarily, so awareness matters.
- Select which changes to bring to physicians and providers for input or decision making. Develop a tailored approach, focusing on how much and what information to bring forward, and each specific audience group.
- Identify change champions. Seek out individuals who have the most influence and ensure your messages are resonating with the right team members who can help drive change.
- Create checklists for change. Provide specific action item lists that inform staff of what will be needed, and when. Custom checklists for leaders, physicians, and other staff roles are helpful to support each employee through the change experience for their job.
- Plan for success. Break large initiatives into smaller projects that are most likely to succeed. Any plan should be achievable from start to finish in three years or less.
- Determine how success will be measured. Success measurements should be agreed on by all impacted group leaders and transparent to everyone. Adjustments to the solution may be needed, so set expectations to be flexible and to monitor and track performance as the change processes and becomes the new normal.
- Get support from others. Align and partner around change with other individuals and groups inside and outside your practice, as well as with professional societies and advocacy groups with similar values. Consider investing in expert change management support for larger, complex initiatives and when change fatigue or physician burnout is a risk.
Making the change
- Remind others that change is the new normal. Regardless of your specialty, position, or function, changes frequently emerge in healthcare, especially with external market forces such as MACRA or adopting new value-based payment models. Emphasize that these programs are likely to change over time but are not going away.
- Acknowledge the uncertainty with any change. Shadow people in their daily work, solicit their reactions to the experience, understand their pain points, and offer assistance or support when you can.
- All progress is good and should be recognized. Don’t assume that every physician or group can or should be a top performer right away. Pushing too hard or too fast may jeopardize long-term success. Focus on short-term goals and be sensitive to overlapping demands for change.
- Celebrate progress and express your appreciation. Recognize individuals not just for the change at hand, but also for providing compassionate, high-quality care every day.
- Above all else, always keep your eye on the patient. Virtually all providers and staff can agree on a change when the benefit to patient care is clear.
Change is a predictable component of healthcare delivery. Developing and refining an effective approach to managing change is an essential leadership skill. Recognizing common pitfalls, planning accordingly, and course correcting effectively will help to inspire others, ensure success, and minimize adverse impact.
Steve Gordon, MD, is a principal consultant with Point B, an integrated management consulting, venture investment, and real estate development firm. Steve has nearly three decades of progressive healthcare experience as a clinician, educator, executive, and board member. He has worked with providers, payers, and policy makers on a range of initiatives including care model redesign, pay for performance, change management, IT adoption, physician engagement, strategic planning, and effective governance.
Keely Killpack, PhD, is an independent consultant and expert change management strategist. She holds a PhD in Organizational Psychology and has more than a dozen years of experience supporting diverse client organizations through transformational changes from business strategy, technology adoption and operational performance initiatives. Keely is known for her highly collaborative approach to large-scale change adoption in healthcare systems, pharmaceuticals, retail, government agencies, energy and transportation. Beyond consulting, she is also a founding member of the only global change management professional association, has presented at international and national conferences throughout the last decade, and taught courses in change, communication, and leadership and her first book about change management strategies, ChangeRX for Healthcare, is available now.