The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “Nothing endures but change. All entities move and nothing remains still.” His words are as true today as they were over 2,400 years ago. Change is an inescapable part of our existence, and it is something we must learn to manage if we wish to survive. In the current situation, this is especially true for those in healthcare who have had to react and adapt to a barrage of frequent and sometimes extreme changes in recent months with the spread of COVID-19. For some specialty providers, these changes have been devastating and even put the future of their practices in jeopardy. For other providers, this has been a situation in which they have not only survived but thrived. It all comes down to how well (or not well) these providers have adapted to these changes.
Adaptability is the key to success when it comes to managing change.
Prepare (and make a plan when you can)
A specialty practice’s ability to weather sudden and unexpected situations is sometimes directly related to how well it was positioned for that change in advance. Preparing for potential changes is far more effective than simply reacting to them. However, achieving such readiness also requires a bit of planning and forethought. One of the first things to do is to increase your knowledge of your practice’s location and surrounding environment. Also consider laws and regulations that dictate operations to your medical practice. Start by listing out events that are likely to or could possibly occur which might require you to change the way your practice operates to deliver care. Consider the following possibilities:
- Natural Disasters & Extreme Weather – Think about meteorological and environmental events in your area, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes and other extreme weather or natural disasters that might require you to temporarily change your practice’s care approach.
- Disease/Viral Outbreaks – As recent times have shown, outbreaks can occur anywhere and at any time no matter where you are located. The COVID-19 outbreak will not be the last viral pandemic, so it is important to have a plan in place.
- Industrial Accidents – Find out what, if any, industrial facilities are near your location (helpful tip: Google Maps is a great investigative tool for finding out what is around you). Accidents or fires at these facilities could require an evacuation that would hamper your practice’s daily operations. Consider, for example, the explosion at a chemical plant in Port Neches, TX in 2019. Every business and residence within a mile of the facility had to be evacuated.
- Utility Outages – What will you do if the power goes out? What about a loss of internet connectivity? What if there’s a break in the water main for your area? You need to have a plan.
- Regulatory Changes – As a healthcare provider, you are responsible for staying abreast of new changes to governmental regulations. Subscribing to email updates from the relevant organizations is a great way to stay informed.
Adapt (and do it quickly)
Once you have listed out potential problems, you can sketch out solution plans for how your practice will respond. This could include actions such as implementing telehealth visits only during a viral outbreak or purchasing a standby gas generator that can be used during a power outage. When a sudden change occurs, whether or not it is something you have planned for in advance, you still need to implement a response plan as soon as possible. Doing nothing is rarely a good option when things start changing. For example, some practices immediately applied for SBA loans when they first became available while others took a “wait and see” approach. Those who applied first received loans while those who did not were left out when the funds ran out.
When sudden changes occur, perform the following steps:
- Identify the Problem or Change
- Create a Solution Plan
- Communicate the Solution Plan to Other Providers & Practice Staff
- Implement the Solution Plan
- Keep Track of Solution Plan Outcomes
Learn & Revise (because your plan may not work)
As 19th century Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke once said, “No battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy.” And he was right. Just because you have a plan, it does not necessarily mean you have a plan that actually works. Stubbornly sticking to a plan that is obviously not resulting in the desired outcomes will only lead you down the road of continued failure. Remember, adaptability is the key to success when it comes to managing change. Avoid being overconfident in a chosen approach.
After implementing a solution plan for a sudden change, you need to evaluate the outcomes to see what can be learned. Look at what worked as well as what did not. Make revisions to your plan and start again. Improve on your solution plans by using the lessons you have learned.
Survive (by making better plans)
One more time for the people in the back row… adaptability is the key to success when it comes to managing change. Remember that even a revised plan may not turn out to be the best solution. If that is the case, learn and make more revisions until you have things optimized.
The survival of your practice is extremely important. However, your personal survival (and the survival of your staff) is far more important. Sometimes, there is no plan to be made if it means putting lives at risk. Know when it is time to stop and be sure that you are not unnecessarily endangering yourself or your staff by remaining open in unsafe conditions.
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