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Digital Health: Overcoming the barriers to organisational change

By Danae Dudley-Hammatt, COO, Careology

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It’s a challenging time to work in healthcare.

Many countries around the world with booming economies have one thing in common; their healthcare systems are ageing, extremely complex and increasingly not fit-for-purpose.

This is largely due to people living longer but less well, soaring costs of treating people with multiple comorbidities, ageing hospital infrastructure, and an ongoing struggle to recruit and retain qualified clinical professionals.

Embracing technology to help ease some of this burden and tackle challenges  – like improving patient experience or managing climbing patient waiting lists – is mostly met with enthusiasm, but all too often there are dissident voices.

For the sceptics and those who appear resistant to change, the path to successfully implementing digital solutions can seem unclear because too often many promising initiatives fail.

For instance, it’s not uncommon for healthcare teams to embark on multiple initiatives and pilots that never manage to progress to wider rollout, leaving teams disheartened and disengaged.

And yet, amidst the cacophony of doubt, the patient voice speaks volumes.

With nearly three-quarters of patients who, according to the NHS Confederation, want their doctors to provide them with the ‘best technology possible’, the desire for innovation is palpable.

Despite the road to implementing even the most basic tools being tied up in red tape, there are champions for change within every organisation who understand that – when done correctly – bringing digital into their workflows can significantly improve them.

But how can these champions for change achieve organisational buy-in?

The answer lies in understanding how each stakeholders’ needs will be met and ensuring that innovation enhances – rather than replaces – the compassionate care patients deserve.

This attitude builds the strongest possible foundation for establishing a digital transformation agenda that will deliver an exceptional end-user experience that encourages a wider acceptance of technology in healthcare.

How to approach implementing digital health solutions

Step one: Understand the problem: a data-driven approach  

Preparation is key to effective problem solving.

Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions”.

As with any business case, understanding and evidencing that there are capacity issues or perhaps that patients aren’t receiving the right information or engaging in self-care all comes down to data.

Whilst macro-level data such as national treatment waiting times and national patient experience surveys provide an excellent baseline, local insights from frontline staff are invaluable.

Understanding their experiences, pinpointing pain points, and hearing first hand what would enable them to deliver better patient experiences and streamline workflows forms the bedrock of innovation in healthcare.

Step two: Involve, engage, and unite people

To find out where the pressure points are – and how best to address them – requires collaboration and inclusivity.

Engaging people early on and soliciting their perspectives and opinions are pivotal steps.

The delivery of digital health solutions hinges on the presence of change champions. These individuals are dedicated to driving progress and rallying others around a shared vision to improve standards.

As Louise Keogh Weed, practice transformation specialist at the Harvard Medical School for Primary Care, says, change management requires “bringing physicians and medical assistants into the same room and having both perspectives matter equally in the context of problem-solving”.

By removing hierarchy and encouraging internal alignment on the benefits of digital adoption, champions can help persuade and catalyse widespread acceptance amongst individuals or even whole departments.

Step three: Get into the right frame of mind  

One of the most dangerous phrases in any organisation is “but we’ve always done it this way”.

Keeping things the way they are may feel comfortable but all it does is maintain the status quo. Fostering a culture that embraces change is easier said than done.

Remaining open-minded in the face of new technologies and workflows and encouraging curiosity and willingness to test and learn are paramount.

Technology can make huge improvements in healthcare but people need to drive that change.

Successfully rolling out a new tool or solution requires new approaches to the way workflows are managed and executed.

As Jo Upton, Director of Nursing and Clinical Services at Lloyds Pharmacy Clinical Homecare details: ‘When deciding which is the right technology solution, there are key pointers to consider including that it has been co-designed with healthcare teams, it will complement the care you provide, that it is easy both to implement and scale and that patients and clinical teams actually like it.’

Step four: If nothing changes, nothing ever changes (ergo take the plunge and try it!)

Progressing from idea to implementation requires a commitment to pilot, test, and refine.

Getting to the stage of proving the benefits of the intervention can be tricky, and many pilots – especially within public healthcare systems – often fail to reach being rolled out across a whole organisation because the value proposition has not been clearly defined.

Therefore, it’s key to test new workflows and technology with a cohort of patients.

Not only does this enable the finessing of a proposed solution, but also data-gathering to assist with the domino effect of winning endorsement from those who are set to benefit.

Step five: Overcoming the final hurdle 

One of the biggest hurdles in digital health transformation is ensuring that technology solutions are not only implemented but also embraced by end-users.

To achieve this, user experience must be prioritised to ensure that technology solutions are intuitive, user-friendly, and aligned with the needs of both patients and healthcare professionals.

By involving end-users in the design and implementation process early on, you can ensure that technology solutions meet their needs and drive positive outcomes.

The earlier people are involved in using and refining a solution, the more likely it will be that they use it after it is rolled out.

With forward-thinking and planning, even the biggest barriers to implementing digital into healthcare can be mitigated.

It is one of the last big industries to go through revolution and, as health technology embeds ever-further into the way care is accessed and delivered, the early adopters are becoming the ones to follow.

It’s only a matter of time before digitalisation becomes the norm and, by equipping teams with the skills and knowledge to become champions for change, it ensures that the best tools which really address issues and improve workflows are chosen and properly used, not just enforced from the top down.

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