Dr John Payne, physician executive at InterSystems, looks at the holistic approach to both technical and adaptive change vendors must take when implementing new technology with their healthcare partners to keep senior doctors on board with innovation
Change management is key when adopting new technology
Innovation is critically important to healthcare organisations across the UK and Ireland and there is a real desire to achieve it, as providers strive to deliver the best-possible patient care in the face of ongoing resource shortages.
Underlining the significance with which innovation is regarded across the sector, a 2022 survey commissioned by InterSystems found that almost three quarters (71%) of healthcare leaders believe it is vital to the survival of their organisations.
And that is a testament to the focus healthcare providers have on seeking out the most-agile systems, tools, and treatments to help ensure optimum outcomes for all their patients.
Coupled with that, more than four fifths of the survey sample (81%) said ‘keeping pace with patient needs’ was mostly driving innovation initiatives within their organisation.
Leadership teams recognise change is a constant and innovation a necessity, yet conservatism and fears about loss of professional autonomy among clinicians can often block progress
This shows that healthcare leaders understand the importance of developing new ideas to enhance the care they offer.
And they clearly want to innovate, but there are many barriers in their way that they first need to overcome.
Inevitably, one of the biggest is the thorny issue of change management.
In healthcare, leadership teams recognise change is a constant and innovation a necessity, yet conservatism and fears about loss of professional autonomy among clinicians can often block progress.
Key to success is understanding the impact that new technology implementations can have.
Organisations must think holistically about the implementation of new technology. In particular, they need to understand the difference between technical and adaptive change, realising the latter can be more far reaching.
Switching to a new drug or MRI machine is a technical change and is something most healthcare professionals will be familiar with, and will have a well-trodden change pathway with little anxiety about the change going forward.
Adaptive changes, in contrast, are less clear-cut, more difficult to identify, and easier to disagree with.
The process of digital transformation is an adaptive change, not a technical one.
It takes more than investing in the latest software solutions to bring about true change – it requires a more-holistic investment in the people and culture underpinning the sector, and strong leadership.
If that’s not acknowledged, understood, and addressed, any change will be difficult to implement.
There are a whole raft of people factors that need to be taken into account.
In implementing new technology in healthcare, for example, there can often be a conflict between the needs of the organisation and those individuals who work for it.
It takes more than investing in the latest software solutions to bring about true change – it requires a more-holistic investment in the people and culture underpinning the sector, and strong leadership
For the individual doctor or nurse, for instance, it may well mean a major change to how they operate and involve them having to spend more time inputting information onto the system rather than directly caring for patients.
Acknowledging this extra burden on frontline staff at the outset of a digitisation project is therefore important in planning and managing staff expectations.
Another potential challenge is that many doctors are wedded to what is known as ‘the hidden curriculum’, which dictates that they should be able to work autonomously and they are therefore resistant to change.
Given the challenges outlined above, healthcare providers that are successful with change programmes tend to have strong senior level leadership at medical director and board level.
Providers backed by medical directors and CEOs tend to be best placed in this respect. However, it is common for senior management team members to have little sight on the local digital projects, being more focused (or distracted) by operational delivery and pressing performance indicators such as patient waiting times.
The final challenge to overcome is that all too often, technology providers can operate in isolation from their customers.
In the past, some IT vendors have implemented a system and then disappeared, not helping the customer to understand, grow, or develop the system.
That is not a positive approach and often leaves the customer with questions and concerns that remain unanswered.
Instead, vendors need to implement and then continuously work with the customer to ensure the system works well, functionality is grown, and that there is an increased level of adoption.
In the past, some IT vendors have implemented a system and then disappeared, not helping the customer to understand, grow, or develop the system
Change in healthcare is urgently required to improve patient outcomes, optimise clinician workflows, and secure cost savings.
But this need brings about a corresponding requirement for change management, and a well-thought-out and well-implemented strategy to support it.
And that entails stakeholders working in partnership to achieve common goals.
It means focusing on people and how they can form trust-based relationships and work closely together to drive through the changes required.
So, while there are obstacles to implementing the new technologies or solutions that are a catalyst to positive change in healthcare, there are steps that can be taken to scale these barriers.
By working together to overcome entrenched attitudes and ways of working, and being willing to embrace innovation, healthcare providers can prevail over the impediments in their way, and fully embed innovative, new technology that can drive real change into healthcare settings.