Relationship Issues Going Digital

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This age-old cliché has grown to represent one of the greatest challenges facing America’s medical industry, summarizing simply the attitude of many toward Electronic Health Records.

To meet one cliché with another, the question of whether an old dog can learn new tricks comes to mind, somewhat less flatteringly applied to aging practitioners and clinicians who resist the evolution of medical records to a digital format.

The frustration being felt, aired, and compounded across the country is not only the fault of ‘old dogs’ content to keep taking notes with pen and paper. In fact, the challenge of adopting and adjusting to new, disruptive technologies is not unique to the healthcare world.

Growing Pains

Change management is hardly a new idea (or newly trainable skill-set) in the world of leadership. What is new is the incredible rate of change blazing through all industries, alongside an increasing, cross-disciplinary dependence on technology, which makes change management as much a technical exercise as a social one.

Digital relationship management might be a better term to describe the challenge organizational leaders (and especially healthcare administrators) now face, as they must now not only keep abreast of the flow of new gadgets, programs, and systems, but also determine when and to what extent these new pieces of tech deserve to be integrated or ignored as part of a larger shift to digital.

Even the loudest critics of the government-mandated shift to EHR platforms admit that the digitization was inevitable, if rushed. More of the grumbling is directed at the systems themselves, as well as the various ways in which clinics and hospitals have tried (with mixed results) to adopt and implement them. By now it has become clear that it will take much sorting-out before the potential of such systems can be fully realized.

Healthy Relationships

This is where effective leaders must start exhibiting a thoroughly modern skill: by getting their organizations (and contractors) to learn to troubleshoot, communicate, and share responsibility for making new digital systems work.

The healthcare example may be the most dramatic, but it is certainly not the only one. Companies big and small must sort through all manner of opportunities to adopt a system, set a policy on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device, wherein employees’ smartphones and devices can be used at and for work), judge the merits of a local server against cloud storage, and all the myriad security challenges that accompany each decision along the way.

Commitment and Vulnerability

The days of segregating IT from management are over; organizations need leaders with enough technical savvy to handle issues of personnel as well as electronics. Each employee in a clinic, regardless of size, can be expected to interact with dozens of devices, communicate virtually with patients and outside providers, and potentially expose troves of valuable data simply by logging on.

Expanded risk must be met with more collective awareness and acceptance of responsibility. Ultimately, this means deliberate, coordinated engagement with technology: building positive, fluid, digital relationships.

The relationships people have with their technology, digital applications, hard and software—these all matter today, as much as the relationships people have with one another. That means modern leaders must be judged not just on how they maintain harmony among their organizations, but on how effective they are at managing their organization’s digital relationships, and helping everyone overcome the unavoidable skills gaps that emerge with every new innovation and change.

It is a difficult, complex challenge—but like all challenges, it requires conscious planning and constant reevaluation to be met successfully.

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