Embracing health care’s shakeup

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For organizations, businesses and especially their staff, the word “change” often conjures nothing short of anxiety, fear and trepidation.

And there’s perhaps no other industry in Maryland that has had to deal with change more rapidly than health care.

Indeed, it’s no secret that many of the leading health care organizations in Maryland have lately needed to steer through numerous challenges, while attempting to enact a new payment model for hospitals in Maryland, while at the same time have consumers maneuver through the travails of the state’s troubled health exchange website.

The problems arise and are compounded when health care organizations attempt to solve the inherent demands with purely technical fixes and by operational acrobatics, but without a fully developed communications plan.

Of course in the long-run, change can be a good thing. But if it’s not managed and communicated well ­— really well — it can cause uncertainty, fear and even paralysis among staffers and fictitious speculation and damaging rumors from the outside world.

The causes of change here in Maryland affecting health care have been many including but not limited to:

  • Mergers: Several hospitals in the area have merged out of necessity in order to increase market share and more alliances will be occurring to increase volume. Yet with that accompanying growth comes operational headaches, if not nightmares.
  • Government: Created by the Affordable Care Act, Maryland initiated reforms to its all-payer rate-setting system exerting more pressure on hospitals to streamline and perform better.
  • Competitors: With some 60 hospitals in Maryland, and a high concentration here in Baltimore, it is one of the most competitive markets in the country.
  • Technology: Hospitals in particular and health care in general have lagged behind in adapting to 21st century technologies. But because of Obamacare, doctors and hospitals are mandated to upgrade technically. When these developments appear, conveying how they operate can create angst among staff and patients used to doing things the old way.
  • Market trends: Americans are getting older and while baby boomers expect to live forever, the health care industry will feel an even greater strain.

How can organizations deal with all five of these at once?

For starters, first realize that change is frequently accompanied by negative reactions and your organization is going to have to steer staff through stages of “denial”, “resistance”, “bargaining” and eventually “acceptance” and “support.”

Therefore, health care leaders need to get in front of this transition and have their employees alongside with them.

They’ll need to create a communications plan that explains why things are changing. Moreover, there needs to be a sense of urgency, “If we don’t change then it’ll be worse.”

Importantly, they need to have a vision for what change will look like and build a coalition of leaders that can communicate that vision and empower them.

Just as fear and anxiety is not healthy for an individual, it’s the same for any organization, especially one that advocates health.

Abe Novick, a Baltimore communications consultant and writer, can be reached at abebuzz.com.

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