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Digital transformation – managing the barriers to change

By Campbell Harte, Head of Delivery Services at NDL

For many working in healthcare the only constant they see, is change!

Technological advancements, ageing populations, changing disease patterns and new discoveries for the treatment of diseases, requires healthcare organisations and professionals to constantly adapt and change, all whilst embracing new technologies to streamline processes and improve patient care.

Many healthcare leaders believe that digital transformation is the key to improving better patient experience. According to latest research from Deloitte, 92% have pinned those improved patient experiences as the top desired outcome from investments in digital capabilities.

In the last decade, healthcare has made huge strides forward, with so many more patient services now digitalised – an average day could now see a primary care physician upload lab results for a patient through an online portal; a hospital send an automated text about an upcoming vaccination appointment; a hospice nurse onboard a patient using a single smartphone instead of a pile of papers and binders; whilst Mr Brown orders his repeat prescription vis his NHS phone app, to name but a few.

UK healthcare organisations are under constant pressure to improve patient experience and increase patient involvement in care decision making. IT plays a big role in facilitating the constantly evolving working environment, with the government placing a strong emphasis on ‘implementing digital transformation’.

Complex processes, services and demands, coupled with multiple human interactions in often difficult situations can make implementing change quite challenging.

Implementing new systems and procedures to facilitate organisational performance improvement may be seen as a necessity to senior managers, but staff on the frontline can be resistant to change where they cannot see patient or work benefits, or when suffering from change fatigue.   In some circumstances, health care professionals are expected to increase the documentation of their work, take on more administrative tasks and participate in management-led quality improvement initiatives. This increase in systems could arguably stop them performing their vocational activities – which may result in resistance.

Continuous professional education has become increasingly important to ensure that health care professionals’ competencies keep pace with current standards – striving to maintain and enhance the knowledge and skills needed to stay abreast of the ever-changing medical landscape.

However organisational culture, lack of ownership and poor communication remain major barriers to implementing such change.  Some clinical and administrative staff are historically suspicious of senior administrators and therefore resistant to strategic agendas driving change. Research has shown that resistance to organisational change is often associated with employees’ psychological uncertainty about how the changes will affect their working environment, daily workload and overall role. 

Not securing employee buy-in at the offset can impact employee health and well-being long term, resulting in reduced organisational commitment, loss of productivity and work-related stress.

Some organisations describe potential changes using nonsensical (jargon) phrases which can often be misunderstood, or potentially confusing for the people that need to adopt, embrace, and make that change work. Clarity in the communication is therefore key.

If change is driven from the front line back through the organisation, with those most knowledgeable about their work put in an optimal position to identify relevant problems and initiate appropriate changes, the success of the project driven by strategic agendas, is often far greater.

At NDL we have helped many healthcare trusts successfully navigate the many cultural and technical challenges involved in their digital transformation journey. In our experience, getting those involved early in any new project implementation is essential. Ensuring that they understand what is driving the need for organisational change and how they will benefit themselves and/or the patient too, will ultimately contribute to the success of the change.

Our advice is to secure the buy-in of the frontline workers from day one – this is fundamental to the success of any project. It is also important to give clear context as to how the time saved will be re-invested elsewhere. Emphasise the ‘keep it real’ message and give clear examples, ie. if we do this, we can give you an extra 30 minutes a shift to spend with your patients. Understanding benefits that are tangible such as patient wellbeing, quality of provision and time to do the important things, are all key components in the adoption of change. But they must be underpinned by a clear training and implementation programme.

In short – early engagement, empowered, involved individuals, plus a clear understanding of well-articulated benefits, with a plan that people can get behind, is the key.

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