As more and more antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains and new viruses cause pandemic issues, healthcare clinicians are asking how they can protect themselves and their patients from these emerging and sometimes deadly infections. Similarly, healthcare leaders want to know how to usher their staff and the public through the critical changes required to treat such problematic illnesses. Although these situations present unique challenges, the basic tenets of change management clearly apply.
According to Prosci Best Practices in Change Management research, two key issues affect how clinicians deliver care, which also drives changes in the industry:
1. Autonomous Nature of Employees
By its nature, healthcare demands a high degree of autonomy and independent thinking. Clinicians generally have difficulty accepting change at face value without clear, convincing evidence.
The challenge with novel (new) viruses, such as the coronavirus, is that the mode of transmission at the outset is unknown, as is the incubation period. This presents many challenges to clinicians because they don’t know what they were dealing with. As I write this article, full understanding of the coronavirus is still evolving. It’s not difficult to convince clinicians of the need for care-delivery changes for this finite group of people, but these clinicians may still lack all the necessary information to provide appropriate care while protecting themselves and others from the virus.
2. Lack of Designated Resources
The second most common challenge cited in our Best Practices in Change Management research was a lack of designated resources when trying to implement change management. Participants also noted a lack of funding and insufficient time away from daily priorities to focus on change management.
With a need for immediate change, as required for potential coronavirus patients, there is little time for planning and resourcing the effort. Institutions managing an influx of patients with a potential coronavirus diagnosis will find it challenging to provide the specialized care required without having dedicated staff assigned to manage the change. Additionally, they may be financially strapped when resourcing other care units to continue business as usual when many of their resources have been redirected to deal with the pandemic crisis.
Fortunately, change practitioners in healthcare also reported some of the adaptations they utilized to gain buy-in for a needed change. In addition to being useful for general changes in healthcare, these ideas support the need to be flexible and agile when facing significant pandemic changes such as the novel coronavirus.
1. Alignment With Employee Characteristics
Participants identified the various ways they adapted change management to work with employees. This included physicians and other healthcare professionals on change management teams to meet expectations of a high degree of collaboration as well as to increase stakeholder engagement.
It is imperative to utilize a collaborative approach to make all clinicians, including support staff, aware of the specifics of the change being implemented to manage patients presenting with potential coronavirus. It will be necessary to engage with all disciplines that will be involved in providing care to this finite group of patients.
2. Communication Across the Organization
Change practitioners must adapt communications to gain buy-in and reach as many people as possible throughout the organization, working in various clinical and administrative departments, and on shifts covering 24x7x365 care. One useful strategy is to ensure that communications always link the change to improvements in patient care.
Information about the coronavirus is ever-evolving. Open and frequent communication via all possible avenues is vital to caring for patients, and to safeguard the clinicians and support staff providing care to this finite group of patients—all while protecting other patients in their care. Although not a direct improvement in patient care, this change is more outcome-driven in reducing exposure to others and still providing quality and comprehensive care to the affected patients.
Since 1998, Prosci Best Practices in Change Management research has consistently identified active and visible sponsorship as the leading contributor to successful change. This applies to every industry, including healthcare.
At the regional level, hospital executives and medical directors are the sponsors within their own institutions. They’re responsible for ensuring that current information, communication and care strategies get deployed. When healthcare organizations face a pandemic crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) could be considered the executive sponsor providing the guidance, direction and up-to-date information on the situation.
Currently, the WHO is requesting that all countries improve their reporting to them on epidemiological findings, severity of symptoms, etc. This will enable them to determine standards for care of these patients and develop potential treatment modalities.
What’s remarkable is that the WHO is currently receiving reports from only 38% of existing cases. They’re also having extreme difficulty evaluating how the outbreak is evolving, the impacts it could have, and ensuring that they are providing the most appropriate recommendations. As a result, the WHO has requested immediate improvement in data sharing. When one considers the reporting numbers and the extreme consequences, a question arises: why are healthcare organizations not reporting?
Healthcare organizations are certainly not alone when it comes to resistance. Clinicians and employees are people after all. What we have also learned is that medical practitioners adapt to ever-evolving medical practices daily—but can be some of the strongest resistors when it comes to change.
The new coronavirus presents medical practitioners with a potential crisis, and immediate change is necessary. Given this and the other challenges the healthcare community is facing today, change management is extremely relevant and should be implemented to gain critical buy-in for and success with treating, managing, and reporting on this pandemic crisis.
Prosci research shows that if your change management effectiveness is excellent, you are six times more likely to meet or exceed the desired outcomes. As the healthcare community focuses on providing safe, quality care to affected patients while ensuring non-transmission to others, it’s easy to see how an effective change management strategy and approach can help. Change management is simply imperative to reach the successful outcomes that the community at large expects during a pandemic.
Janice Epp is a Prosci Master Instructor with more than 20 years of change management experience. Formerly a clinical nurse, she has worked in hospitals, clinics, educational settings and even as a flight nurse. After transitioning to clinical consulting, she translated her knowledge into effective change solutions for healthcare providers. Today, she is an executive change management educator helping clients identify the most effective change processes for their unique initiatives.
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