Someone once said something like this, ‘The only thing you can count on never to change is that everything is going to change.’ I think that’s true especially in a medical practice. There’s a constant tug of war in nearly every area. The regulatory powers, new medical procedures, changing billing and payment cultures, insurance mandates, and other forces are always at play to make your jobs challenging.
How can you continue to surf the waves of change without wiping out? Change is going to happen. Fearing change will only put you behind. If you put off a necessary change because you are afraid to disrupt the office or upset a particular staff member, you will only be delaying the inevitable. Some changes are forced upon you. Waiting to implement them may be more difficult than if you jump on them early.
Some threatened changes are simply rumors. A government agency or insurance payer hinted that they might change a policy that will affect you. Jump on these and your office will become constant chaos. Learning the secret to recognizing change that will happen and change that might happen is key. Once you know the difference, you’ll need a steady hand to guide your staff through. Here are some tips to help.
Avoid knee-jerk reactions. Panic makes for confusion and discontent. Cry wolf too many times and your staff will grow wary of you. They will tend to drag their feet on changes that are essential. Before you take action, discipline yourself to research the issues thoroughly and ask several trusted colleagues in similar positions of authority what they intend to do. Good advice from wise leaders is a great policy to stick to.
Stay informed on the necessity of a particular change. This goes hand in hand with avoiding the knee-jerk reaction. Change may be necessary so detailed information is essential. Make sure you stay abreast of the exact requirements and assess how they will affect your practice. If the change is not required, but would be beneficial, then take time to decide the best timing to initiate.
Avoid change for change’s sake (Resist the fads). How many times have you been involved in changes that turned your office upside down, just to have them fade into the sunset shortly thereafter? Change is hard work, changing with every fad promise for improvement will burn your staff out. Don’t let salesmen or 'experts' pitch you on changing something that is working for you.
Become an aggressive planner. Once you’ve determined that change is necessary, start aggressively planning for it. What I mean is to take it in hand to think of every possible scenario the change will bring. Then strategize for that scenario. Plan staff changes, workflow changes, expenses, patient impact, doctor buy-in, legal compliance, and every other possibility you can think of. Have contingency plans for each.
Inform your team and all parties affected by the change. Once your planning has identified all who will be affected, start to inform them. Let them know specifics as necessary, timelines, policy changes, personnel changes, and etc. The bigger the change, the more time will be needed to prepare your people for it. Be careful to include everyone who will be affected - leaving someone out is a quick way to create disharmony in the office.
Note deadlines and stay in front of them. This is part of informing your team but goes deeper. Deadlines show your ability to manage. Aggressive planning is one thing, implementing the plan is something entirely different. You may be a great planner and a poor implementer. If this is you, find someone in the office more gifted at staying on top of a plan and delegate the responsibility. You will save yourself some stress and ensure the deadlines are reached.
Work your plan. Having done all the above, what’s left is to make it happen. This all comes down to your ability to motivate yourself and your team. Whatever methods have been successful for you, use them. If you haven’t had success in the past, don’t be afraid to try something new as a motivator. If you fail, at least you will have learned not to try that method again. Succeed and you may just land on a formula that works for you and your staff.
If you’ve recently failed at navigating a change, don’t be dismayed. We all fail. Start now to think through how you will successfully handle the next change. Make a list of what you, or your staff, could avoid, or do better the next time. Give yourself some hypothetical situations and work through them. Practice when nothing is critical so you can perform when something is.
You have a very difficult job that changes almost daily. Be willing to fail and determined to succeed. You will make it through. Great leaders are those who learned from their many failures. Keep learning, keep trying, stay humble, and smile in the worst of times. Leaders who can do these will find they have followers who are also able to keep their chins up in the constantly changing world of healthcare.