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Fighting healthcare’s resistance to change

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I was lucky enough to spend some time with CIO friends across the country this year. I flew to several cities, and met with them in their offices. They took me on tours of their facilities. It felt great to meet their teams and see some of their operations.

These CIOs were so gracious in making time for me, and we talked about everything they’re focused on right now. It’s always a long list when you’re a healthcare IT professional—adhering to new government regulations, implementing new systems, figuring out how to parse the ocean of data they’re now swimming in, and most interestingly, helping their organizations change for the future.

But as I look back now over these visits, it was the last item—driving change—that seemed to be connected to every other challenge they face.

CIOs might see the urgency to change more clearly than their fellow senior executives. And not to be too biased, but I think they might actually know how to adapt their organizations to the coming changes better than many other leaders.

Healthcare IT executives primarily see and understand every component of the healthcare operation. They have to—it’s a job requirement. What also comes with being involved in organization-wide healthcare operations, unfortunately, is a front row seat to the pervasive resistance to change evident in many healthcare organizations.

Healthcare leaders profess to understand the need to move toward fee-for-value and new healthcare models. But at the same time, they resist the change, and all the resultant impacts that it can bring to their organizations. Sometimes they resist actively, mostly it’s passively. Change means risk. Healthcare is risk-averse, to put it mildly.

“We have organizational antibodies against change,” said one of the CIOs with whom I visited. “I think we got into line three or four times for the immunization.”

I wonder if these “antibodies against change” are more prevalent in healthcare than in other industries? We’re unique in so many ways (or so we like to proclaim), but my experience as a healthcare exec over the past 25 years tells me we are, as an industry, really great at moving as slowly as possible into an inevitable future.

We are overly in love with meetings. With building consensus before we move. With making sure nobody’s feelings are hurt because they were left out of the decision-making process. With making sure we’ve thought of everything that could possibly be a problem, and then making sure we’ve explored (and resolved) how we’ll deal with all those issues before making a final decision and beginning on any journey.

We take industry complexity, and we wrap ourselves in it like our favorite well-worn blanket. It’s our favorite shield against change.

In a nutshell, we’re not agile. We’re overly-cautious. “Perfect is the enemy of good” is something we say, but not something we actually do consistently.

We take industry complexity, and we wrap ourselves in it like our favorite well-worn blanket. It’s our favorite shield against change. Well, Linus, I think it’s time to give up the blanket.

I know I’m over-generalizing here. Believe me, I’m thrilled to see some organizations showing real agility. Those few are true broad-based innovators and risk-takers. They have grasped the fact that no one has all the answers yet, so we’ll have to build the bicycle while we ride it. I appreciate what they are doing to pull the rest of us into the future.

Remember, (modifying a quote from Darwin here), “It’s not the strongest healthcare organizations that will survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones that are most responsive to change.”

Now, given the scope of what’s facing the industry, it’s time for HIT executives to go lead healthcare’s change.

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