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How to Manage Change in a Health Care Organization

Published on 3/23/2017

We're celebrating Women's History Month with a month-long "Women in HIT" blog series. Every week, we'll be highlighting some leading female voices in the HIT industry — both at Cerner and beyond. These experts will be taking on hot-button issues and industry trends to advance the conversation around health care. Earlier this month, Cerner's Meg Marshall tackled the economics behind America's complicated path to health care reform, while Cerner's Susan Stiles and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network®'s Joan McClure discussed how data can bridge the gap between personalized medicine and personalized care.

Dealing with change in a professional organization can be one of the biggest challenges and opportunities in business. This is especially true in the world of health care and health IT (HIT) — two of the most change-oriented industries.

Consider the amount of regulatory change and emerging new payment and business models that we're seeing. These requirements and mandates, paired with the constant innovation in the IT space, invariably impact the operations and outcomes of care delivery. This change affects health care professionals at every level, from the physician dealing with new reimbursement models, workflow alterations and regulations to the leader evaluating strategies for profitability and patient satisfaction. Change in our industry is a reality, and as leaders, it's essential to manage the impacts of change for the benefit of the health care organization, the care team and, most importantly, the patient.

Health care is too important to stay the same, and health care professionals should understand how to manage change when it inevitably comes. Following are some key strategies for navigating in times of change.

Change is coming — learn to be ready for it

Regulatory adjustments, shifts in consumer behavior patterns, the accelerated pace of IT development and the aggressive rate of health care organization consolidation are all factors in the health care industry.

Increased rate of consolidation in health care organizations

There are a number of factors driving up the rate of consolidation among hospital organizations and physician practices, including the shift from fee-for-service to value-based payment models and the changes brought on by the Affordable Care Act (and the current discussion around its repeal and replacement). For many, the potential need to change — especially to create new partnerships, become part of an organization or affiliate with a larger organization — is top of mind.

Shifting consumer behavior patterns

For decades, marketers in other industries have been appealing to the consumer by making their experience more connected and more personalized. It's no surprise that health care consumers expect similar engagement strategies from providers.

Increasingly, consumers want to be more involved in their health care decisions, and that means providers are looking to innovative technology, informed patient engagement strategies and different organizational structures to drive better patient experiences. These factors can result in disruptive, voluminous and rapid change.

Expect and accept change

The first step in leading through such dynamic times is to expect and accept change. Rather than resisting or avoiding what can feel like looming disruptions, it's important to proactively engage. Whether it be an organizational shift, a change in business models being adopted or an improvement in technology, it is important to seek to understand the drivers, goals and expected outcomes of such change.

Understanding the rationale for any given change is essential to being able to not only support, but to positively impact, the intended outcome. Think about what the change may mean to the organization, your team, your patients and you personally. Considering all the impacts in advance can provide a blueprint.

Be transparent, timely and frequent with communication

Communication is the foundation of a successful change management strategy. Most important is communicating the right content, at the right time, to the right stakeholder.

When change comes for a health care organization, it happens on multiple levels — and the pieces move differently. For example, an organization's leader is not going to broadcast a discussion about consolidation until decisions are made. At that point, transparency is key in communications with the internal team. Those are the people who will help develop an external communication strategy so that the community and patients the organization serves are included in the change.

For CIOs who are reframing their IT plans for the future, it's essential to engage stakeholders early and be transparent about what is coming. Engaging stakeholders will help define an IT implementation and adoption approach that will positively impact team members and their work processes. Part of being transparent is inviting them into the change process.

There will be questions and concerns through every stage of the change process, and perhaps the most important thing leaders can do is to pay close attention to their people. Open and frequent communication is essential. Consider using a variety of forums such as email, blogs, newsletters, town halls and roundtables, all of which can help establish trusted relations in advance of and in the throes of change.

Be proactive and engage

Typically, changes introduce new team members, stakeholders and processes. Don't wait until members of your team may have heard through the grapevine that change is on the horizon — make sure they are hearing from you first.

Health care and HIT is a team sport — there are multiple players that make it successful. For CIOs who are installing a new EMR or upgrading a revenue cycle system, one of the biggest missteps is thinking of it as an IT-only project. If the focus is only on the software, with input only from stakeholders on the IT side, you miss the opportunity to understand the user perspective. How do users want to improve their workflow and how might those insights may be incorporated that into the change?

Think of it this way: If we have to upgrade an IT system due to a regulatory requirement and the upgrade is going to change the user's workflow, the sooner that you engage the user community, the sooner they can impact how the change happens. Getting that buy-in upfront is critical, because if the user community hasn't been a part of the adjustment and the new system isn't optimized for their workflow, optimal outcomes will not be achieved.

Likewise, during an acquisition or reorganization, take the lead in reaching out to new colleagues, seek out opportunities to learn about upcoming changes so you can proactively prepare yourself and your team. Being proactive also gives leaders an opportunity to influence and shape the direction and impact of change.

Commit to thriving in change

To succeed in times of change, it's important to make personal adjustments, including learning new tools or processes as well as adjusting your approach to be effective in a new landscape. Reflect and assess what may be required operationally and personally, and then commit to making it happen. You can be part of the solution by focusing on the goal and jumping in to help where you see it's needed.

Managing change is making it something that doesn't scare you and that you don't resist. It's being resilient while accepting change at face value and becoming part of the process. It's assessing the situation, anticipating the needs of your organization and looking forward. As cliche as it sounds, the goal should not be to survive change — it should be to thrive in it. Thriving in change means finding the potential benefits, communicating through it and bringing people along with that.

Do you want more HIT insights? Check out Cerner's Perspectives, a thought leadership publication.

Read more from our "Women in HIT" series: