Author: Tricia Liebke, General Manager of Customer & Clinical Engagement, Telstra Health
Why does change management matter?
Over the last three years technology has played an increasing role in healthcare delivery, particularly as providers and services needed to find rapid solutions for dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the care they provided.
In areas such as the use of telehealth and virtual care there were significant leaps forward in the adoption of technologies to support alternative approaches to care delivery, that are unlikely to be reversed.1
Despite this, the adoption of new or different technologies can still prove challenging in healthcare settings, particularly in a fatigued, under-resourced healthcare workforce which is experiencing burnout levels as high as 71 per cent.2
In this context, and with the impacts of COVID-19 still being felt across the healthcare system, effective and proactive management of change from the rollout of digital health programs is paramount. This is also important for enabling organisations that need to report outcomes to executive and Board teams following investment in digital solutions.
In this article we share the experience our people have had in managing change in healthcare organisations, and the components that can help to create a successful digital health program from start to finish and beyond.
What is change management?
Change management is the practice of supporting people within an organisation as they adapt to changes in systems and processes that will improve outcomes quickly and effectively. Change management supports staff in moving from the status quo to new ways of working, with the aim of limiting disruption to day-to-day operations.
In the context of healthcare delivery, the people impacted by the adoption of a digital health technology (including patients, clinicians, administrators) should always be at the centre, and this is regardless of whether the changes relate to processes or systems.
Our change management experience
At Telstra Health our people have broad and deep experience in the delivery of digital health programs, and understand the key determinants of success when introducing change to a healthcare organisation:
- Leadership and vision
In our experience, the organisations that tend to succeed when introducing new or different technologies are those with a clear vision for how care should be delivered and the role technology will play in care delivery.
Successful organisations have leadership teams that explain clearly why technology is important, and how it will be used to improve the care delivered to patients. Staff are also clear on how the technology introduced will enable them to deliver high-quality, safe and effective patient care as messaging around the digital program is focused on these types of outcomes.
- Engagement with staff and patients
Organisations that manage change effectively typically engage staff and patients early in the planning process and act on their feedback. Early engagement focuses on securing ‘buy in’ to the solution and the clinical workflows it will support, encouraging staff to support the introduction of the new technology and feel as if they have more accountability in it being a success.
Timing is also key; by engaging with multi-disciplinary teams early in the process organisations can anticipate resistance to or blockers with a solution, giving time to address challenges before implementation.
Tailored and targeted communication to all impacted groups within an organisation is critical for effective change management. It’s important to keep key groups (such as clinicians, patients and administrative staff) up-to-date with the rollout of a digital solution and to educate people on their role in making the digital program a success.
We recommend that communications shared with staff and other relevant parties about the digital health program are as jargon-free as possible and focus on the key messages of the rollout.
Employing a range of communication channels can be effective for reaching a broad audience, as is identifying the most relevant communication channels for different settings and doing this in the planning phase. For example, in clinical settings we know that face-to-face updates are often the preferred method for sharing information, and these types of insights should be factored into the planning phase of the digital health program.
In our experience, the introduction of a digital solution is more likely to be successful if staff are trained both in how to use the technology and how it should be adopted into their workflows.
It is a common mistake to assume that staff only need to be trained in how to use the technology (for example, how to log in, how to edit and save a progress note, how to update a patient’s details), thus leaving staff to work out for themselves how to incorporate the technology into their clinical practice. While this might work in a simple system replacement project, typically healthcare providers want to use technology to enable improvements in delivering care. In which case, we recommend training staff on the new way of working expected from them once the new or updated technology is implemented.
- A data-driven approach
Digital health solutions can support organisations in making significant improvements to the quality, safety and timeliness of care delivery, and business cases for investment in these solutions should be based on robust assumptions about the benefits of introducing the digital solutions.
Organisations that manage change successfully are clear about what they are trying to achieve and use their own data to track their progress during and post-implementation.
Most importantly, we recommend organisations share this data with frontline staff, i.e., those using the technology, so they can see how their use of technology is making a difference and to encourage transparency around how the technology is supporting the organisation. In cases where benefits are not being achieved, the data helps pinpoint where there are issues, and how those issues can be addressed.
- A commitment to continuous improvement
Introducing digital solutions to a healthcare environment should be part of an organisation’s commitment to continuous improvement, in which case change management effort doesn’t end with implementation.
Often the ‘go live’ day is only the beginning of an ongoing process of optimising the use of technology, and from a change management perspective this means continuing to work with staff who use the solutions to understand how they use them, and to address issues as they arise so that the program’s outcomes are met.
At Telstra Health, we work with our customers from the planning phase of digital technology delivery through to implementation and beyond. We provide support in assessing challenges, mitigating risks and advising on the best way forward along every step of the way so that our customers can achieve the anticipated benefits of digital health transformation.
If you would like to discuss introducing or adjusting a digital health program, simply get in touch today.