The Voice of Healthcare IT: A 5-Step Leadership Process
By John Lynch | February 6, 2019
We live in a dichotomous age: On the one hand technology is a massively powerful tool that has allowed us to accomplish large-scale goals in record times. On the other hand, it is an absolute necessity that must be maintained delicately to ensure operations can continue. A balance between these two roles is particularly difficult to strike in healthcare IT.
Technological advancements and the systems physicians, clinicians, and administrators use every day are often seen as ground-level devices that require micromanagement.
However, the most effective method for facilitating a healthy marriage between the IT aspect and the clinical aspect of a healthcare organization must be deployed from the highest level of leadership.
The Challenge of Healthcare IT
Oftentimes healthcare IT is viewed as detached from the rest of the organization. This separation is further exaggerated if there is a lack of timeliness or responsiveness from the IT department, which can leave clinical staff feeling as though their needs are not being met.
Additionally, hospitals and clinics often struggle with their healthcare IT departments due to a lack of clinical knowledge within the IT side and a lack of understanding of IT on the clinical side. In other words, the two hemispheres of the organization are not speaking the same language or dealing with the same daily struggles, which makes relating to one another and supporting one another exceedingly difficult.
Without proper education around what physicians or clinicians needs are, the healthcare IT department becomes so far removed from the healthcare space, ultimately causing the IT staff to work in a bubble. When such a problem arises, any IT solutions that are implemented or any support the IT staff are providing ends up lacking.
While there are numerous reasons for diminished responsiveness from the IT staff and lack of mutual understanding – including overwhelming volume of projects, a lack of organization, mismanaged prioritization, and so on – ultimately the issue comes back to one dominating factor: ineffectual leadership.
When leadership is lacking, the entire organization suffers – from the financial health of the organization as a whole to the clinical staff, administrators, and even the IT professionals themselves.
The Healthcare IT Leadership Process
Change starts at the leadership level. In order for any lower-level operation to be successful, you need to have a strong high-level understanding of the overall needs of the organization. Only then can you implement changes that address those needs and provide the support the organization requires so that healthcare IT strategies have the desired impact.
Over the years, I have developed a 5-step process for reuniting healthcare IT with the organization being served.
The first step is to ensure you have the right IT staff in the right places. In many cases, healthcare organizations may need to fill gaps in knowledge by bringing on additional team members.
If you need to hire more support, then hire. While many organizations or IT managers are afraid to suggest hiring, the real fear should be propping up an IT department that is unable to serve the organization at large.
Conducting a thorough staff evaluation can make the difference between a valuable and valued IT team and one that further frustrates the clinical side of the organization through lack of support, responsiveness, and need fulfillment.
With your proper staffing model in place, the next step is to re-establish communication. In order to collect information from your organization to identify the core needs that need to be fulfilled by your healthcare IT staff, open channels of communication must be established.
Oftentimes this requires third-party assessment and consultation in order to cut through the long-standing culture of the organization. If various parts of your organization have been at odds or unable to establish healthy communication so far, subconscious barriers may be getting in the way of understanding one another.
In such a case, the organization needs strong leadership to mend those channels of communication, which may need to come from an outside entity.
Once you have reestablished communication within your healthcare IT department as well as with the larger organization as a whole, it is time to begin building trust. The most effective way to generate momentum and faith in the healthcare IT efforts is through quick wins with small projects.
Small projects executed with excellence will simultaneously build your healthcare IT staff’s confidence within themselves as a team and also show the clinical and administrative staff that the IT department is there to serve and support them.
The best projects to execute during the trust-building phase are those that are meaningful and impactful, but do not require a great deal of resources or time.
Organize & Prioritize
With a few quick wins under your belt, the next step is to organize and prioritize the remaining projects left to tackle. Begin by brainstorming with your healthcare IT staff and ask questions such as:
- What is everyone working on?
- What are all of the products within the organization?
- What are the various needs we are hearing from the clinical and administrative sides of the organization?
- What are the goals of the organization for improvement, advancement, and future compliance?
- What are the common issues crossing the help desk?
- What internal IT projects do we need to accomplish, such as maintenance, security, backups, and infrastructure?
Encourage your IT staff to brainstorm freely to ensure no important needs or concepts are missed. From the smallest details to the largest, looming issues, everything needs to be spoken and addressed.
Next, you can begin organizing your list of projects, needs, and goals of the organization based on priority. The most business-critical needs and goals should be first. Additionally, limit your team to a set number of projects at any given time so as not to overwhelm your IT staff or spread your resources too thin. Your team may decide to take on three projects at a time, for example. Once one is complete, add another.
Over time, you will continue to build trust within the organization which will further improve your communication between the IT team and the clinical staff you are there to support.
Re-evaluate & Repeat
A successful leader is attentive, involved, and listens to the voice of IT from both the clinical side and the IT staff side. To prevent getting lost in the complexities of individual projects, come back to the top of the process at least once per year. Begin again with an evaluation of your staff, commit to improving communication, build trust, organize and prioritize, then execute strategically.
Rather than managing your IT staff, taking a strategic stance and guiding the goals and priorities of your healthcare IT with strong leadership can cause rapid positive shifts to occur throughout the organization.
If you have questions about how to establish strategic leadership and a culture of needs-driven excellence within your healthcare IT department, get in touch with us.