How change management can unlock digital innovation in healthcare


Dr John Payne, physician executive, InterSystems, discusses the holistic approach to both technical and adaptive change vendors must take when implementing new technology with their healthcare partners.

Innovation is critically important to all healthcare organisations – from hospitals to mental health trusts to medtech companies – and there is a real desire to achieve it, as providers strive to deliver the best possible service against a backdrop of ongoing resource shortages.

Underlining the significance with which innovation is regarded across the sector, a 2022 survey commissioned by InterSystems, revealed that 71% of healthcare leaders believe it is vital to the survival of their organisations. That’s a testament to the focus healthcare organisations have placed on seeking out the most agile systems, tools, and treatments to help ensure optimum outcomes for their patients.

At the same time, more than four out of five respondents (81%) said ‘keeping pace with patient needs’ was mostly driving innovation initiatives within their organisation. This shows that healthcare leaders understand the importance of developing new ideas to enhance the care they offer, or the service they provide. However, there are nevertheless many barriers to overcome on this path to innovation. Among the biggest of these is the complex issue of change management.

Tackling the challenge of change

Leadership teams in hospitals and healthtech firms alike recognise change is a constant and innovation a necessity, yet conservatism and fears about loss of professional autonomy among senior staff are frequently a barrier to progress in any setting. Key to success is understanding the positive impact that new technology implementations can have.

Organisations must think holistically about the implementation of new technology. In particular, they need to understand the difference between technical and adaptive change, realising the latter can be more far-reaching.

Switching to a new MRI machine for example, is a technical change. This is something most healthcare professionals, or healthtech developers will be familiar with. In line with this, there is a well-trodden change pathway in place, meaning there will be little anxiety about the impact of the change going forward. Adaptive changes, in contrast, are less clear-cut, more difficult to identify, and easier to disagree with. The process of digital transformation is an adaptive change, rather than a technical one.

It takes more than investing in the latest software solutions to bring about true change, of course, it requires a more holistic investment in the people and culture underpinning the sector, together with strong leadership. If that’s not acknowledged, understood, and addressed, any change will be very hard to implement.

There’s a whole raft of people factors that need to be taken into account. When developing new medical technology, for instance, there can often be a conflict between the requirements of the organisation and those developers who work for it. 

For an individual doctor or nurse, for instance, it may well mean a major change to how they operate and involve them having to spend more time inputting information onto the system rather than directly caring for patients. Acknowledging this extra burden on front line staff at the outset of a digitisation project is therefore important in planning and managing staff expectations.

Given the challenges outlined above, healthcare providers that are successful with change programmes tend to have strong senior level leadership at board level.

Providers backed by medical directors and CEOs tend to be best placed in this respect. However, it is common for senior management team members to have little sight on the local digital projects, being more focused (or distracted) by operational delivery, and pressing performance indicators, such as sales figures or on-time delivery rates.

Collaborative innovation

The final challenge to overcome is that all too often, technology providers can operate in isolation from their customers. In the past, some IT and healthtech vendors have implemented a system and then disappeared, not helping the customer to understand, grow, or develop the system.

That is not a positive approach and often leaves the customer with questions and concerns that remain unanswered. Instead, vendors need to implement and then continuously work with the customer to ensure the system works well, functionality is grown, and that there is an increased level of adoption.

Change in healthcare is urgently required to enhance patient outcomes, improve clinician workflows, and optimise cost savings. But this requirement brings about a corresponding need for change management, and a carefully considered and well-implemented strategy to support it. That entails stakeholders working in partnership to achieve common goals. It means focusing on people and how they can form trust-based relationships and work collaboratively to drive through the changes required.

So, while there are obstacles to implementing the new technologies or solutions that are a catalyst to positive change in healthcare, there are steps that can be taken to scale these barriers. By working together to overcome entrenched attitudes and ways of working, and being willing to embrace innovation, healthcare and medtech providers can prevail over the impediments in their way, and fully embed innovative, new technology that can drive real change into medical settings.


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