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In healthcare, a strong change management plan starts with buy-in

A successful change management strategy should include creating a group to mitigate inevitable technology implementation pain points, according to healthcare leaders.

Investing in and introducing new technologies to a healthcare organization is easy; getting employees to change the way they do things is hard.

At the 6th Annual Thought Leadership on Access Symposium (ATLAS) in Boston, healthcare leaders from organizations across the U.S. discussed how a strong change management strategy is necessary for a new technology to succeed.

According to healthcare leaders like Pamela Landis, the tenets of a good change management plan are to engage with stakeholders early, clearly communicate why the technology investment is necessary, and establish a team to help lead the implementation.

Landis, vice president of digital engagement at Hackensack Meridian Health, a 13-hospital health system based in Edison, N.J., said the first thing she looks for when considering a new technology is scalability and ease of use.

"Those are the things I look at right from the start," she said. "Can it scale, and can it make life easier for our patients, our consumers and our teammates."

Start with a change management plan

For Keith Sale, M.D., vice president and chief physician executive of ambulatory services at the 910-bed nonprofit University of Kansas Health System, once a need is identified that technology can fill, his change management plan involves starting with a process called "socialization."

The point is to formulate an idea and share it with select stakeholders who would use the technology to generate support before he promotes the concept to the C-suite and potential funding sources.

"We'll take our concept or new technology and figure out who might this apply to, who might be interested in this, who might this benefit," he said. "Then we take it to those different groups and kick it around a little bit, and ask for ideas or other things that might make that concept better or might push us in a different direction or to a different technology."

Sale described the University of Kansas Health System as a fiscally conservative organization that doesn't always look to chase risk, noting that it's not financially "deep-pocketed." Having a limited budget makes buy-in a priority before he'll take steps to adopt a new technology, according to Sale.

Craig Johnson, vice president of service and growth at Norton Medical Group in Louisville, Ky., an integrated medical group of more than 900 providers, said getting support for a new technology is the key to change management. Rather than socialization, he engages with a cross-functional team established for just this purpose.

Johnson said one year ago, the medical group formed an executive medical director council comprised of 11 executive medical directors who meet twice a month and conduct an initial vetting of any technology proposals.

Giving the council of physician leaders a chance to voice their opinions early can build support for a new technology with a group often wary of change: the providers.

"One of the things I admittedly fall into all the time is thinking, 'This is awesome, our operators are going to love it, our patients are going to love it, our providers are going to hate it,'" he said. "The reality is that can derail a successful launch. So we started to get closer to that group early."

For Hackensack Meridian Health's Landis, even before looking at a new technology, she makes sure the problem she's trying to solve aligns with her health system's strategic roadmap. If the problem doesn't align with the health system's plan to grow the business and reduce costs, Landis said the change is probably not going to be worth the time and investment.

"I try to say, 'What is the problem I'm trying to solve, where is there support for this on our network strategic plan and will it line up,'" she said. "Then I go out and bring in stakeholders and say let's look at technology together."

Change management during implementation

Once the Norton Medical Group gets buy-in for a new technology and decides to bring it into the organization, one of Johnson's key strategies is to create a task force.

The task force is a cross-functional group brought together to help mitigate implementation issues that Johnson said are inevitable. As the implementation progresses, members of the task force drop off as needed, but having a core group to help assist in change management will lead to long-term success, Johnson said.

If it's a sustainable change you're looking for, developing a task force will be worth the time.
Craig JohnsonVice president of service and growth, Norton Medical Group

"If it's a sustainable change you're looking for, developing a task force will be worth the time," he said.

Sarah Kier, vice president of patient access at Emory Healthcare, an 11-hospital health system in Atlanta that employs 2,800 providers across the state, issued a word of caution when it comes to creating a change management task force: Careful planning is necessary.

"Overinvolvement will slow you down," Kier said. "Underinvolvement will kill you in the fourth quarter."

Kelly Marshall, senior director of business architecture and seamless design at Banner Health, said a successful change management plan involves constant communication. Banner Health is a nonprofit health system based in Phoenix that operates 28 hospitals across six states and has more than 50,000 employees.

Making sure to reiterate why an organization is adopting a new way of doing things is critical, she said. She also recommended asking at every point along the way who else should be involved in the conversation. Doing so will keep everyone up to speed and help foster a successful change.

"Communication is key," Marshall said.

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