How to Manage Healthcare Initiative Overload

How to Manage Healthcare Initiative Overload
Senior Director of Marketing

New initiatives are a powerful driving force in healthcare, helping organizations reach efficiency benchmarks and harness new technologies to better serve patients. But they also can be overwhelming, giving employees a mountain of goals and responsibilities: Improve patient care. Digitize all patient and employee data. Improve provider retention. Shorten patient wait times.

It’s a draining experience for both medical and administrative staff, resulting in stress, unnecessarily bloated budgets, muddled organizational focus — and wasted time. “In a typical organization, over 95% of time and over 50% of activity is ‘non-value-added,’ meaning it is not what we are really paid to be doing,” says author and consultant John J. Murphy.

In short, there’s an initiative overload that’s becoming an epidemic at healthcare organizations. These initiatives, however, are still necessary to drive innovation. Organizations need to rethink their strategy and approach to healthcare initiatives so that they’re both more strategic and intentional in their deployments, giving them the best chance to succeed.

Create Priorities

It’s a cliche, but ideas are a dime a dozen. Executing these ideas, however, costs much more than a few dimes, particularly in healthcare, and also leads to increased workloads. “You’re adding work onto the system through innovation,” says James Barlow, Chair in Technology & Innovation Management (Healthcare) at Imperial College Business School in London.

As you consider initiatives for your organization, first be sure that you’re meeting your baseline criteria for success. Treating patients the way that they should be treated must be your No. 1 priority, along with planning for the future. Also, make sure that you’re considering your goals on various timelines. Examine how each initiative will fit together, and how your personnel will execute them. “You need to be very strategic,” Barlow says. “Have a very clear short-term, midterm and longer-term plan.”

In order to combat healthcare initiative overload, organizations need a formal evaluation process to better understand what to prioritize. Murphy recommends a process called Baseline Analysis in which a team of experts audits the business, collecting data on its operations and identifying the root causes that will lead to organizational change. The team then makes recommendations to senior management, who signs what Murphy calls a “contract for change” to prioritize actions.

Empower Those on the Ground

For those tasked with creating organizational initiatives, the work can sometimes feel like an intellectual exercise, a chance to take data and turn it into actionable ideas. But this top-down approach ignores a fundamental truth: It’s the managers and healthcare professionals putting these initiatives into action who have the best handle on what works.

This isn’t to say that initiative planning isn’t well-intentioned. But organizations need a culture that allows those on the ground to push back on initiatives that aren’t working, and that allows for a bottom-up approach to experimentation. Empower workers and let their firsthand observations and knowledge drive innovation.

“There’s a danger you will just stifle innovation bubbling up from the shop floor if you have a very top-down directed model,” Barlow says. “You need to get that balance between bottom-up experimentation … and the top-down, more directed goals.”

Centralize Your Initiative Planning

The ultimate way to audit your initiative planning is to audit it continuously. Organizations can benefit from appointing someone to be a chief innovation officer, responsible for overseeing initiative development and planning.

Who you hire, though, is just as important as creating the position. Be sure you choose someone heavily credentialed in the medical field who will have the expertise to sort through ideas and to garner the respect of the medical professionals they will work with. “They have to have the ability to bridge the different professional boundaries within a healthcare organization and get the buy-in from everybody,” Barlow says. “Otherwise they’re just going to be operating in their own little bubble.”

Additionally, this position needs decision-making and budgetary power. Many organizations suffer from not empowering those in similar positions, such as diversity officers. Only by giving this person meaningful responsibility will an organization take the final steps to ensure that it’s both prioritizing patient care and innovating.

If your organization is suffering from initiative overload, prioritize your most important work, set clear timelines and strategies, and empower your people to make the changes.

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