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Importance of Change Management in Healthcare: Common Planning Mistakes

by | Mar 7, 2023

Change management is a critical component of success in the healthcare industry. With continuously shifting demands for quality improvement, cost reduction, and patient-centered care, medical professionals must be able to adapt their management processes quickly and efficiently when adjusting how services are delivered. Doing so requires careful planning and thorough implementation strategies that ensure employees will have the time and resources they need throughout transitional stages of an organizations’ changes.  

What Is Change Management in Healthcare? 

Change management in healthcare involves the transition from the current state to a desired future state by effectively planning, identifying risks, enabling and leading teams, measuring performance, and supporting continuous improvement. It is an important aspect of project management in healthcare because it helps maintain quality and integrity and supports a safe care environment.  

Inadequate change management can result in common planning mistakes such as unnecessary costs, inefficient designs, unrealistic timelines, and ineffective projects. Therefore, meticulous planning and executing change management is crucial to successfully navigating changes in healthcare. 

Types of Change Management Models in Healthcare 

Managing change in healthcare is structured by change management models. The success of a transition model hinges on both a strategic plan for the organization and specific execution steps. One popular model used in healthcare is the ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement) framework, which incorporates five crucial steps for implementing change: 

  1. Developing an awareness of the need for change 
  1. Forming a collective desire amongst staff to initiate the change 
  1. Acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to implement the change 
  1. Practicing new behaviors related to the change until they are ingrained 
  1. Reinforcing behaviors related to the alteration until they become habitual  

Alternative models specific to healthcare include Total Quality Management and Six Sigma – two frameworks focused on process improvement. Another example is the Delta Change Model, a medical model emphasizing the use of valid intervention. By understanding these change management models and choosing which will work best according to specific needs, organizations can minimize common mistakes and successfully navigate implementation. 

What is Included in a Change Management Plan? 

Planning is the first step to responsibly managing any changes or initiatives that occur in the healthcare system. A comprehensive change management project plan should do the following: 

  • Identify stakeholders and their roles  
  • Develop a communications plan and strategy 
  • Assess potential impacts on existing processes and services 
  • Develop goals and objectives with priorities  
  • Establish clear timelines for task completion  
  • Define expected outcomes and progress measure techniques  
  • Provide training to ensure readiness for changes  
  • Outline contingencies 

Ensure your stakeholders include “front-line” staff whenever possible. Those who work in the trenches for a respective area often bring unique and valuable perspectives to a project that could otherwise be overlooked by someone at the Director or VP level.  

Also, make sure communications are effectively cascaded throughout all levels within the organization; the rumor mill may become a major obstacle to overcome as a result. By taking the time to develop a detailed change management plan at the outset of any change initiative, health care organizations are better positioned for long-term success. 

Common Mistakes 

Change management that is poorly implemented can result in failed projects, wasted resources, decreased employee morale, and patient dissatisfaction. Without taking time to thoughtfully create a change management plan, organizations are at risk of making common planning mistakes such as: 

  • Underestimating cost and time required for triggering and implementing change activities 
  • Neglecting to consult stakeholders in the decision-making process 
  • Failing to equip team members and management roles with sufficient skills and knowledge 
  • Neglecting organizational culture when creating plans 

Make sure the decision-making process is clearly defined at the front-end of the engagement. Who, or what organizational body, will “own” the final decision or interim decisions along the way? Without a clearly defined governance structure it is easy to get caught up in a circular loop of input/feedback that does not move the project forward.  

Also ensure that you allow sufficient time to identify the stakeholders for the project. Often, the project’s impact can be much more far reaching than the initial assumption. Invest the time needed in this area. 

Ensuring that stakeholders are engaged early, and process dependencies are clearly identified – while adapting to potential challenges – will facilitate short-term wins and long-term success in change management activities.  

Successfully Implementing Change Management 

Successful implementation of change management requires careful planning and attention to detail. It is important to begin by identifying a clear purpose when introducing changes, as well as setting measurable goals with milestones for tracking progress along the way.  

Ensure that your providers are engaged at the early stages of any initiative. Since any transformational change has the potential to impact patient flow, patient volumes, patient engagement, etc., providers and staff need to clearly understand the “why” behind the initiative and how it will impact their practice in a positive way. Provider “champions” are vital for peer-to-peer reinforcement. 

Healthcare organizations risk making incorrect assumptions about stakeholders’ values, motivations, and expectations regarding changes. Developing effective communication strategies is vital, as it encourages transparency and opens an avenue for two-way dialogue between stakeholders.  

Finally, healthcare organizations must allocate sufficient resources when planning changes to ensure they can effectively carry out their objectives while still maintaining other priorities throughout the organization. With this combination of thoughtfulness and thoroughness, healthcare organizations can maintain patient care quality while staying the course for successful implementation of change management. 

Ongoing Monitoring and Evaluation 

Often, the success of a change management strategy rests upon the ability to regularly monitor and evaluate the process. Establishing set procedures, including change request forms, will help organizations quickly identify if adjustments are needed to optimize results. Allowing flexibility, such as adjusting timelines and resources, helps ensure that projects remain on track and desired outcomes are achieved.  

Summary: Change Management in Healthcare 

Effective change management is essential for successful healthcare operations. However, many organizations tend to make common mistakes when planning for change which can have unintended consequences. These mistakes include inadequate communication with stakeholders, lacking foresight for risks, and not having a clear plan of action. Such factors can lead to unnecessary delays or conflicts during necessary changes to healthcare processes or systems.  

To maximize the effectiveness of change management, good planning and stakeholder engagement is key. With thoughtful preparation and commitment from all stakeholders, efficient change can be possible.  

Poise Your Organization for Success with a Robust Change Management Strategy 

Change management is a critical factor for success for any healthcare organization. Successful implementation hinges on sufficient preparation – from understanding change management models to budgeting and monitoring and evaluating progress. 

An organization can ensure successful implementation of major initiatives by defining how the “change” aligns with its culture and how it supports its mission, vision, and values statement. At Medical Advantage, our team of professional consultants have vast expertise in change management best practices and guiding major initiatives toward long-term success. Have a big project on the horizon? Let us know how we can help ensure optimal change outcomes for your organization. 

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