Implementing technology in healthcare: change, adapt and keep moving forward!

This is a blog I wrote in 2016 about the changes in digital health, technology and patient expectations, but after listening to some Bowie and Queen recently, I thought about the piece and it’s still as relevant as ever – and……. who doesn’t want to listen to some Bowie and Queen at every given opportunity?

So, before we proceed – I’d suggest getting out the head phones / speakers, turning up the volume and having a listen to “Changes” – Bowie, “The show must go on” – Queen, and the masterpiece in collaborations from both artists, “Under pressure”. Now dance like no one is watching and rock on. Don’t forget to come back and read this after though!

Over the years, the introduction of technology has disrupted healthcare services – for better, and for worse! The need for technology in healthcare to support clinicians and patients is no longer a ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ question; it is a definite ‘yes’. But to what extent should we implement technology and how will the change in process affect what we do – and how we do it?

There are many intricacies and technical challenges but in my opinion three of the key components to address when implementing technology are; change, adapt, and keep moving forward.

The truly successful changes throughout history have required a vision, a willingness to participate from all those involved, and the ability to change and adapt as required. But most importantly leaders are needed; leaders who will inspire and influence the people around them to take on the challenge of change. Inspirational leaders range from political figures, sports stars and international rock stars to people who have achieved extraordinary change.

However, we don’t always need to look to the wider world and to famous people to find inspirational leaders, we can find people all around us who inspire us with their actions and through the change they effect.

I took myself back to the very first Future Health Summit in Ireland where two awesome people who have been responsible for changes throughout healthcare in Ireland and England, Richard Corbridge (Director of Innovation at Boots)  and Maria O’Loughlin (Assistant National Director Organisational Digital Change),  illustrated what I think is one of the best (quick) examples of change, adapt and keep moving forward. Check out this clip here from the 2016 Future Health Summit:

You will see how their ability to to change quickly works on so many levels: Maria was asked to participate in the program after a last-minute change to the line-up, and Richard speaks about change in terms of the necessity for people to collaborate, work together, and this is how change can come about. However, as Richard begins to speak, something goes wrong and he needs to adapt, but continue with the show. And in true ‘Rock Star’ fashion – Maria and Richard make sure the show simply keeps moving but with a wry grin….

Worth a watch,  if nothing else you get to compare just how much Richard has aged since leaving Irleand for the UK!

Ch-Ch-Changes – Turn and face the strain (Bowie – Changes)

Change is never simple and it usually doesn’t go as planned. In healthcare the technology is usually (surprisingly!) the easy part. It is the change in processes and change in behaviour, which people must incorporate in their daily workflow, that pose the biggest challenge. We humans don’t like change; we’re comfortable and happy with what we do and how we work: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

However, being slow to change is not sustainable in a healthcare environment and we must not only adapt to new technology but also to the expectations of patients. It is possible to bank online, book holidays online, shop online, and now – we are seeing more and more instances of people managing their healthcare online, through online portals and video kiosks to GPs. While this is not wide spread – it’s the direction technology is moving, and the expectations of people are quickly following. So why not also use the web to manage our health? As part of the electronic patient record (EPR) business case for Ireland, citizens will have access to their healthcare data and even more importantly, they will be in control of their data. This will, of course, require several changes from all clinicians and healthcare providers involved with healthcare today – but the healthcare system cannot just stop to facilitate this necessary change – the show must go on!

The show must go on – On and on, does anybody know what we are looking for? (Queen)

These technological changes will be implemented gradually over a number of years and not in one big bang; this means that the show must go on no matter what. But as clinicians, managers, deliverers of care, we must face it with a grin and never give in! It is not possible to anticipate every end point and come up with an instant solution to every problem that we will encounter on the way, but it also does not justify telling the patient to come back while we troubleshoot or when it is convenient for us to use the technology. Healthcare providers must continue to provide the same high-quality healthcare while working through these changes; it is a matter of adapting as we go along and finding a way to carry on.

It is imperative to look at change as an iterative process and start with a frame of mind that embraces adaption as required; this brings fluidity to a technology implementation that will reassure those involved. If there is an aspect that does not work – or needs to be adjusted – this can happen without panic and a “halt everything” approach. It will disrupt the project, but the show must go on.

By keeping everyone involved, and encouraging stakeholders, users, and anyone who is interested, to voice their opinions, and to have their suggestions listened to and acted upon, brings a transparency and an openness to a project that generates good will and a positive experience. It facilitates an environment where people are happy to speak up and contribute to the direction of the implementation.

Under pressure – (Queen and David Bowie)

There is a level of terror involved in knowing what a new implementation of technology is about! Can we not give ourselves one more chance? We will not always succeed first time around; we will find ourselves under pressure from time to time, but, our ability to work collaboratively and to be agile – and understand that we will occasionally need to change our pace or change goals to benefit the project – is important.

Managing change is one of the hardest aspects of any technology implementation. Fear of the unknown can cause people distress and to be distrustful. Being open and honest about progress while listening to end users and stakeholders will ensure success along the way.

In the words of Queen and David Bowie, and in the actions of Richard and Maria, you get the sounds and pictures of how to successfully implement technology in healthcare: you adapt, you change, you deal with what is in front of you and no matter what happens the show must always go on!