In a recent article, Helen Bevan, Chief Transformation Officer for NHS England outlined what makes changes stick in the care sector. It got us thinking about how best to approach technology and change in the NHS.
For a quarter of a century, Helen Bevan has overseen change initiatives within the NHS. In the latest Harvard Business Review, she talks about the challenges of preserving the gains from previous initiatives while moving successfully forward with new projects.
“Much of our workforce models the behaviour of senior leaders, and when those leaders shift their energy to something else, it’s hard to sustain things. We have to find ways to continue the journeys we’ve started by sustaining people’s energy while creating space for new things,” she said.
Certainly, leaders influence how change is perceived initially. From there, as Bevan attests, it’s a matter of ensuring everyone else understands the value of – and reason for – change and buys into it. She also addresses the concern, particularly in the care sector, around whether efficiencies are more focused on cost-cutting than outcomes.
“Of course we focus on costs – we have finite resources. But it’s about framing. Instead of talking about waste, we focus on unwarranted variation in care. Every patient with the same condition should get the same high-quality treatment; when that doesn’t happen, it can be a matter of life and death. Variation also adds to cost, so reducing unwarranted variation increases care and reduces cost.”
Five ways to initiate effective change
The ExtraMed team has extensive experience of deploying digital technology to support change. Here are five principles to consider when initiating, managing and sustaining change in the NHS.
1. Early engagement with end users is crucial
People don’t always relish change, especially if it’s abrupt and the reasons behind it aren’t clear. To minimise resistance, it’s important to respect staff and the hard work they do by getting them involved from the start.
2. Sharing the benefits and value of the software
Outlining why the software is needed and what benefits that brings is a sure way to gain buy-in, particularly if it links to an individual’s daily work load and responsibilities.
3. Be clear on what is going to be delivered and will how this will help and improve patient outcomes.
In a crowdsourcing exercising about the biggest barriers to change, Bevan found the most common answer was “confusing strategies”. So, when a new initiative or goal is proposed people don’t know whether it’s more important than a previous one. Therefore, clarity around what the goal is and how it integrates with ongoing practice is important for delivery.
4. It’s not technology that engages your users, it’s outcomes
Having shiny gadgets and reams of data means nothing if it doesn’t offer cost-savings or improve outcomes. Patient flow has been designed to be outcomes-focused and provides efficiencies across the board, from removing time-heavy manual processes to allowing visibility of the flow process to expedite patient movement and reduce delays.
5. Don’t under-estimate cultural change
Cultural changes take time and, certainly, going from manual to electronic processes can be daunting. Training, communications on what is coming, on-site open days pre-launch – all provide opportunities for open communication with end users and the opportunity to address any concerns. ExtraMed is designed to be user-friendly, plus we train end users right at the start, letting them own the change.
6. Get staff hands-on
We provide access to software during pre-deployment stage. This hands-on exposure builds a great foundation, increasing confidence that the software is easy to use – and that it has very practical applications. The user becomes engaged early on, with a more grounded understanding of the immediate benefits to clinical staff and patients.