When I was in school, I had to go to the local library to do research for term papers. Here’s how my typical trip would go:
- Trek to the nearest branch
- Flip through card catalogs (remember those?) looking for books on my chosen subject
- Search for a few books that looked relevant
- Comb the shelves gathering those books
- Read through them to assess whether they were, in fact, relevant and useful
By the time I had done initial research on my topic, it was too late to change my mind.
My kids aren’t old enough yet to have to write term papers, but when they are, they’ll have a wealth of information at their fingertips. They can quickly and easily find enough information to make wise decisions about what topics to choose, and find relevant source material to learn about those topics. Instead of spending hours at the library, they can just log in and with a few clicks, find the information they need.
This immediate access to information gives my kids something that I lacked: agility.
Because they have instant access to information, they have a greater ability to ask new questions, find answers and change direction quickly.
Healthcare providers also face a marketplace where change is accelerating.
The past few years have seen substantial regulatory changes, the introduction of new payment models and the shifting of incentives toward value-based care. Although for now the healthcare marketplace is still predominantly fee-for-service, healthcare providers must start to prepare for a rapidly approaching future where reimbursement is increasingly value-based. And surely there will be new reforms and economic factors that will require new strategies.
To survive in a world of change, healthcare providers need agility.
But how can healthcare providers develop agility?
I believe that agility requires these characteristics:
- Instant access to useful information
- The ability to use information to make decisions and change priorities
- A culture of collaboration and adaptability
Why is collaboration important for agility?
Consider the following example. Software development projects used to start with business analysts spending months creating requirements and design documents, which they would then hand over to IT. IT would then spend months using those requirements to build a solution. And then hand that solution back to the business. Unfortunately, the requirements never adequately captured the true business need. And in the meantime the business environment and requirements changed anyway.
Needless to say, the solution didn’t deliver the intended value.
This kind of interaction between departments, based on requirements “contracts,” makes it very difficult for an organization to adapt to change. To develop agility, departments need to work closer together. Organizations should value collaboration over requirements “contracts” and develop a preference for responding to change rather than following an obsolete plan.
Yet, a willingness to pivot and change direction isn’t enough.
We risk developing organizational whiplash if we constantly change to the whims and hunches of a restless executive. A willingness to change must be coupled with an ability to use information to make wise decisions. My colleague, Sean Cassidy, refers to organizations with this ability as “information-driven enterprises.”
As he put it, an information-driven healthcare enterprise “encourages innovation in every corner of the organization by making information as liquid and accessible as possible.” It requires the ability to not only predict potential problems and risks, but proactively mitigate them.
It requires agility.
How does this tie together?
Like a student doing research for a term paper, an information-driven healthcare enterprise needs quick and easy access to information to be agile.
An organization that prefers data-driven decisions, but lacks liquid information to drive those decisions, is forced to wait for data and risks losing the opportunity to act. Healthcare enterprises must develop the ability to integrate and harmonize data. And turn it into analysis-ready information that can quickly answer new business questions and generate new insights.
As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, the only constant is change.
For today’s healthcare providers, this is true now more than ever. Those that develop organizational and technical agility can face that change with confidence.
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