Change Management Strategies in the Healthcare Environment

“Change is the only constant in life.” -Heraclitus

Humans crave consistency in a world where change is constant. This is no different within the walls of healthcare. Consistency comes with predictability and safety – the desire for consistency stems from our innate need for stability and serves as a foundation that allows us to navigate life safely and confidently. Healthcare workers appreciate consistency as it promotes efficiency, enhances patient safety and reduces stress. Moreover, consistency in policies, procedures, and communication ensures clear expectations and reduces ambiguity. Ultimately, consistency allows for increased safety and better outcomes. 

Change, however, is the catalyst for growth. Without change, we remain stagnant. In healthcare, change is the catalyst for innovations in technologies and therapies, improved health outcomes and higher standards for safe healthcare delivery.

As great as it is, change is incredibly difficult to implement. Here are a few reason why change in healthcare is challenging:

1. Established habits and comfort zones: nurses often develop routines and practices that they are familiar and comfortable with. Change requires breaking away from these established habits – this can be unsettling and break time-management routines that have deep roots.

2. Fear of the unknown: Introducing change can create uncertainty and anxiety among staff. They may worry about their ability to adapt to a new practice, fear making mistakes, or feel overwhelmed by the learning curve associated with change. This can be especially true when new technologies are involved.

3. Workload and Time Constraints: There is no doubt that staffing challenges have had an impact on workload. An expectation for implementing change in the face of staffing challenges will strain the process. Implementing changes in practice must be balanced with existing responsibilities.

4. Lack of support and resources: Adequate support, training and resources are crucial for successful change implementation. Anyone who feels ill-equipped or unsupported during a change process may contribute to resistance and make it harder to embrace new practices.

5. Fear: Caregivers deeply care about their patients’ well-being. Any change that can have an effect on outcome may raise concern. Nurses are more likely to embrace change when they are confident that patient safety and quality of care are maintained or improved.

Keeping this in mind, you can do the following when implementing change:

1.  Share the why: Humans have an innate need to know the why. Curiosity drives learning. Knowledge has a direct impact on behavior! When your staff knows WHY, they are more likely to comply with the change.

2.  Support the staff: Before bringing around change, plan to support the staff that will be most impacted. Adopt the use of super-users, helping hands and staff dedicated to help others “use” the change is being implemented. Set-up a “practice lab” or “playground space” where your staff can try things out. The staff that receives support will be more likely to adopt the change and help others adopt it also!

3.  Make training fun: Gamification is the new buzzword in education. Scrolling through a PowerPoint presentation isn’t fun. There are a variety of tools to make education more interactive and chalk-full of games. There is research to suggest that knowledge retention is improved when learners are active participants in education. The interactive and immersive nature of games stimulate the learning process leading to improved retention and application of knowledge!  

4.  Slow and steady: Change can’t happen all at once and overnight. You can try, but it is not effective and will backfire! When bringing on change, make gradual adaptations to practice whenever possible. Prepare your staff not only by having them help with implementation but also by giving as much notice as possible.

5.  Be ready to adapt: You can plan for a perfectly orchestrated change but even the most organized projects will need to pivot, adapt and take steps back. When implementing change, be ready to make changes along the way.

While consistency in healthcare provides stability, safety and efficiency, change is essential for growth, innovation and improved outcomes. Implementing change in healthcare is challenging but with the right strategies, it can be done. Arm yourself with the right information, share the why and show that you can change along the way too!

Adelaide Caprio is the Neonatal Clinical Nurse Specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL. She is also the founder of Hatch & Bloom Consulting. Addy is passionate about the care infants and families receive in the NICU. She wants only the latest and greatest practices for this extremely vulnerable population. She knows change is hard so her mission as a CNS is to engage staff in meaningful, applicable and fun education that translates to excellence in nursing care.