An aging population, rising health insurance premiums, downward pressure on reimbursements — all these forces and more are contributing to a “change needed” environment and mindset for nearly every U.S. hospital and healthcare provider. Change is hard. No doubt that in a highly complex, regulated industry, it’s even harder. Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to the current state of affairs in the healthcare industry knows change is coming (or already upon us) and the critical question is: How do we overcome resistance to change to allow healthcare to flourish?
I was struck by a recent LinkedIn post authored by Jonathan Bush, co-founder and CEO of Athena Health, commenting on the state of healthcare transformation. With refreshing candor often noticeably absent from the national debate about how to remake healthcare, Bush reminds us of “the fact that healthcare is the one industry where the same old ideas are considered fresh for decades”. He also prescribes three critical steps he believes can advance progress in healthcare and help us avoid simply “spewing the same buzzwords as … the year before.”
Why then, is change in healthcare so darn hard? It’s complex, it’s regulated, but so are many other industries. And in the healthcare industry, change can lead to lasting operational efficiencies and savings that can be very impactful. You’d think it would be a no-brainer, but it’s not. In the work we do with hospitals, we often hear them say that there is very little reward, and often substantial perceived professional or personal risk, in deviating from “this is how we’ve always done it.” Our experience is that any change is much easier to accomplish when catalyzed by the “right” information — timely, accurate, actionable — to the evidence-based culture that is part of the fabric of healthcare. Absent facts, people are not comfortable doing anything different.
I’d love to hear the rest of Mr. Bush’s thoughts on “why is change so hard?” and perhaps his answer to the more important question that I hear from many of our clients and colleagues in the healthcare industry: How can healthcare organizations — particularly healthcare providers — overcome the short-term discomfort, or even “pain”, that may result from taking on the risk of embracing change or something new? Even in the presence of potential rewards, the healthcare industry remains remarkably risk averse and change resistant. Sometimes I find myself scratching my head wondering how much more information — and what kind of information —it will take to move people from their seemingly immovable positions.
One of the biggest barriers to change receptivity is that everyone understands and can recite at the drop of a hat, the risks involved with any change under consideration. We’ve all been in meetings in which a new idea is pitched only to have the group quickly point out all the reasons NOT to adopt the idea…without spending a second discussing the potential upsides. A proven way to overcome the change-averse mentality is to provide information about and spend the necessary time explaining the potential benefits of change…the rewards, if you will. Only by helping people see the benefits of change will it become more obvious that in certain situations, the “gain is definitely more than the pain.”
Do you have a good example of a healthcare organization or a healthcare professional that was facing impending and potentially painful change, but with good information was able to see the benefits, embrace the change and achieve tangible results that set them up for continued success? We’d love to hear your story and look forward to sharing user submitted examples and vignettes in future posts.