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The Time for Bold Actions in Healthcare is Now

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you." – Fred DeVito

As you reflect on the first quarter of 2016, what has challenged you to change? Or have you found yourself like most of us, running hectically through your normal day and routine while failing to plan time for thinking differently about ways to challenge yourself and change your circumstances?

As a leader, what have you done to challenge your managers, teams, or organization? Creating an atmosphere that fosters new thinking and disruptive ideas will help challenge the status quo. If we truly want to drive innovation and transformational change in healthcare, we must seek out disruptors and be uncomfortable with the way things are. We all know incremental change won’t get us there.

“If we truly want to drive innovation and transformational change in healthcare, we must seek out disruptors and be uncomfortable with the way things are. We all know incremental change won’t get us there.”

A Tough Journey

ChallengeDriving change is something our team struggles with every day. Our clients say they want to change, but often resist, get cold feet or underestimate how difficult it really is to achieve transformational change and stick to a plan. Despite all the planning, studying and consensus-building, leaders get nervous when they are in the middle of the change adoption curve. Small obstacles suddenly feel like large boulders, and inspiring visions become uncomfortable. But challenging ourselves and our organizations to change, have faith in our decisions and stay the course through the tough stages is what makes the journey worthwhile.

Research shows that to change a habit takes at least 21 days on average. Complex, process-driven change takes even longer – anywhere from 21 to 288 days. Of course, this depends on the level of complexity, scope and impact. But that extended journey causes many organizations to lose courage and turn back early when they need to stay the course toward a better way.

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

As the quote at the top suggests, change is not only a struggle but also a potential reward. Change that is hard is usually for the better, and often necessary. For that reason, I especially admire leaders who are willing to push their organizations to take bold steps. Let’s look at a couple of bold moves that leaders took to challenge their organizations to make an impact.

Last year, David Feinberg, M.D., the new president and CEO of the Geisinger Health System, announced that Geisinger would refund copays to patients dissatisfied with the care they received related to their spine or bariatric surgery.

This made quite a splash in the healthcare world. While many healthcare leaders are talking about consumerism and customer-focused care, how many are truly moving the needle toward consumers?

In that light, it was particularly amazing that Feinberg didn't tie the notion of customer satisfaction to any of the typical measures that hospitals use. He said patients should be the judge of their own satisfaction with their care experience. Geisinger wouldn't try to argue that metrics like "length of stay" had been met and, therefore, the patient should be satisfied.

In 2014, CVS Caremark (now CVS Health) announced it would stop selling tobacco products at its 7,700 stores. Wall Street figured that would cost CVS $2 billion in annual revenues. But this was part of CVS's commitment to being a different kind of pharmacy chain, now called CVS Health. The leadership decided that CVS couldn't, in good conscience, continue to sell tobacco as it shifted from being a de facto retail store that sold groceries and incidentals, to a health and wellness business offering primary care through its network of MinuteClinics and pharmacy counters.

The results have been positive. While dropping tobacco sales did hit retail revenues hard, the company’s overall revenues have increased in terms of pharmacy and clinic sales. CVS also said it believes it has had a positive impact on reducing smoking nationwide.

No Going Back

What I love about such bold moves is how they force organizations to change. There's no going back once you make such a decision. Your organization needs to find a way to make the change work out for the best. Along the way, mindsets will have to change, too.

That approach is almost unheard of in healthcare. We're so incremental about change that sometimes I think it will take decades before the industry transforms. As a result, too often our challenges don't actually change us. We basically stay the course. Yet, incremental change and transformational change are both equally painful and probably equally risky. So why not rip off the bandage? The benefits of transformational change are much, much greater.

What are other challenges of healthcare that require transformational change? What are the bold steps we could take to really take our organizations forward? I'd like to see and help drive more bold moves in 2016 and make it a remarkable year for the right reasons.