During a recent town hall meeting, an integrated health system CEO announced to employees that they would soon be using electronic medical records (EMRs). In response, a staff member had questions: Why do I have to learn a new system now? Can’t it wait a few years until I retire?
Others in the audience likely had similar reservations. But ready or not, change is coming to healthcare organizations. For example, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act requires that healthcare facilities have operable EMR technology in place by 2014 or face sizable financial penalties. Healthcare organizations are also being held accountable for their use of resources and the health and medical outcomes of patients. And to add to this challenge, the U.S. has an aging population and a growing incidence of chronic diseases.
Healthcare organizations can no longer afford to lag in adopting new technologies without assuming economic risk. Technology is a disruptive force in the delivery of quality care and helps healthcare leaders manage in a more efficient manner. It is a key factor in enabling the healthcare industry to go from a costly, fragmented, and inefficient system to one that adopts the best business and clinical practices and meets consumer needs and demands.
Forces of Disruption
The EMR is just one of many new technologies disrupting routine business in healthcare. Radio frequency identification (RFID) devices are helping healthcare organizations ensure they have necessary supplies and save money. Cloud computing allows them to manage the treatment of disease more effectively and store medical records more economically while protecting patients’ privacy. Robots are assisting in the delivery of medical care. Telemedicine gives people who live far from healthcare facilities access to needed medical services. Mobile apps can be used to monitor patients’ conditions remotely, helping them leave the hospital sooner and have better health and medical outcomes.
Consumers are also driving change in healthcare delivery as they seek the same level of service and convenience they find in other industries. As my own experience illustrates, healthcare organizations are beginning to recognize market forces: In the past, I would wait weeks to receive lab test results after I visited my primary care provider. But now that new technologies are in place to assist in managing my healthcare, I can have an annual physical, go to the lab, and get a text message that my results are available—all within 36 hours.
Admittedly, new healthcare technologies are expensive, creating a challenge for facilities with limited resources. But to remain competitive, forward-thinking healthcare organizations must be able to provide the best care in the most efficient manner. Today, technology is critical to reducing errors, increasing efficiency, and achieving the ultimate goal of any healthcare organization: providing safe and high-quality health and medical services.
Creating a Climate for Successful Change
How can healthcare leaders bring about sustainable technological change? And how should they respond to questions like the ones posed by the employee at the town hall meeting? They can start by looking at disruption differently. Disruption is both negative and positive, but we tend to magnify the negative aspects of technology—such as the potential to eliminate jobs—rather than its positive impacts.
It is important, however, for healthcare managers and leaders to acknowledge that some employees find technology overwhelming. Many people and organizations struggle with the implementation of EMRs and other critical technologies because of resistance to change. New technologies often call for new skills, so organizations should increase their investment in employee training and skills development.
Healthcare organizations also need to improve communication about change initiatives. When healthcare leaders tell employees about a planned transition to EMRs or optical imaging, they tend to talk about the benefits to the organization rather than the individuals. Instead, leaders and managers should explain to employees how new technologies will improve their lives and those of the patients they serve, work processes, career opportunities, and job security. For example, one effective leader told his staff that jobs would be lost when the facility implemented EMRs, but that many new positions and roles would be created. He said to the employees, “Will you join me? We will train you and provide you with resources to transition to a new role.”
Given that salaries account for 80% of costs in healthcare organizations, it’s essential to show employees that new technologies provide a benefit to them. Employees who are “early adopters” can be trained as champions of change and serve a critical role in facilitating change with others. Organizations can then reinforce the positive impact of contributing to change by celebrating their accomplishments.
Those who embrace and deliver change will do well and help take healthcare organizations to the next level. As I share with my students in Walden University’s online Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) program, being a change agent has to be a part of your daily lives, especially with all the increasing new developments in the healthcare industry. As more healthcare organizations adopt change management models, the ability to take advantage of the positive aspects of disruptive technologies will be crucial to their long-term success and viability.
Dr. Mountasser Kadrie is the director of the Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) program at Walden University. He has more than 25 years of executive-level experience in healthcare management, primarily in academic healthcare settings, and holds a Ph.D. in healthcare administration.