Change and health care are closely interconnected. Health care organizations are continually faced with the need to adapt to change, whether it be advances in medical care or technology, growing demand for care delivery, a patient population that is increasingly active and involved in their own health and well-being, or evolving reimbursement and cost models. By recognizing that change is inevitable in the health care sphere, organizations can focus on achieving effective change management, including the use of change agents, to smooth the way for change and work to ensure positive outcomes.
When an organization goes through a change, major or minor, individuals will typically experience this change in one of two ways: either as change agents or as change targets. While change agents are also targets of the change taking place in their organization, they are identified as individuals who have the skills, traits, and influence necessary to affect change policy and practice throughout the entire change process. Change agents must be able to recognize that organizational (internal) and environmental (external) circumstances will work together to drive the change and make it successful. Change agents must have a high degree of trust and credibility, and it is important for leaders within a health care organization to recognize and establish these change agents as early on in the change process as possible. Building trust is an essential part of the change process in health care.
Effective change agents need to be empowered to ask critical questions at every stage of the change process. While starting with an end goal in mind, change agents also need to stay engaged and informed throughout every step of the change process and be able to articulate information to the change targets. By asking critical questions and keeping change targets engaged, change agents are able to build a strategic framework that can help to produce the desired outcomes. What is the current state within the organization? Why is change needed? Who needs to be involved, not only in the change process, but also in sustaining that change? Does the organization have the necessary resources to make the change happen? By asking questions like these consistently throughout the change process, change agents can ensure that key stakeholders remain informed and involved.
One key aspect of being a change agent in a health care organization is being able to use data effectively since data is a major driving force in health care. Outcomes data, costs data, utilization data; these are just some examples of the types of data that a health care professional encounters on a daily basis. Data is equally important during times of change. Change agents must be able to identify important metrics and accurate data to support the progress being made in order to help the change targets rally around common goals and performance improvements.
Perhaps the most important skill of a change agent is being able to use honest, timely, clear, and stakeholder-friendly information to ensure buy-in and keep rumors at bay throughout the change process. It is natural for people going through a change to want to have as much information as possible — how does this change impact me? What is the change and why is it happening? Who is going to implement the change and how long will it take? Change agents must be able to address these questions and concerns with effective communication, leveraging multiple channels and platforms, and seeking the expertise of both internal and external communications professionals.
Finally, a successful change agent will not only keep change targets on task, but also readily identify milestones and opportunities to celebrate success. By recognizing the importance of milestone moments, large and small, successful change agents will be able to keep the change process moving forward, ensure that key stakeholders remain engaged, and increase the likelihood of achieving a positive outcome.
Ashwini M. Zenooz is a radiologist.
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