Anyone in healthcare can feel the pressure for change. Skyrocketing pricing, jumping costs, more demands from patients, and mounting regulatory requirements have meant that executives in care providers have had to deal with an unceasing demand for change.
But the pace of change has not met the demand. Rohan Mead, a healthcare management consultant, has observed that the industry largely remains unaltered by circumstances.
Healthcare providers have innovated procedural clinical interventions, curative molecules, diagnostic capacities, treatment possibilities, and so on, but their managerial and business systems have been glacial in their rate of change and innovation, or at best sporadic and non-persistent. The mainstream of activity in the sector has not been transformed.
In other words, the change that has happened in the healthcare industry has largely been in the practice of medicine and delivery of care. That is important. However, it is not enough to improve the delivery of care through technology and new ideas. Any care provider is ultimately a company, whether profit or non-profit, and if the management practices don’t keep pace, the organization won’t have the ability or agility to change with evolving demands.
The issue, however, is not one only of technology. Employing computers and other high tech equipment can help make work vastly more efficient. But when implemented as if they themselves will transform an organization, technical devices will always fall short.
The reason is an old management consulting phrase called “paving the cow paths.” Technology can, indeed, help foster a new way of operating. Unfortunately, they can also, in the name of efficiency, further cement into place existing managerial and operational practices. Technology is only a tool. To fundamentally change the organization, you need to examine and rework where necessary how it operates. Depending only on a boost from technology only speeds up the driving in the paths. You still haven’t replaced the paths with roads, or even highways, capable of enabling much faster and efficient operations.
To beat the race for healthcare management change, managers and organizations have to get beyond looking for silver bullets that will make everything well and good. The real work is to understand the underlying mechanisms that healthcare runs on; see how these mechanisms interact among organizations, payers, and patients; and only then to create new processes and business models that can serve going forward. The process will seem slower at first, but the ultimately payoff for the public, providers, and payers will be greater and more certain.
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