Leading Wisely in Healthcare: Why the Next Generation Decision-Support System is an Industrywide Imperative

As every healthcare leader knows, the industry is experiencing wrenching transformation—so much so, that it’s difficult to identify a single top challenge healthcare organizations are up against. Competition and realizing an adequate bottom line are always top of mind, but C-Suite leaders are worried about so much more:

  • Advancing healthcare reform.
  • Migrating toward value-based reimbursement and population health.
  • Rapidly expanding regulatory environment.
  • Acquiring talent to address workforce shortages.
  • Accessing adequate capital to support growth.
  • Rising consumerism, which demands greater accessibility, affordability, and involvement in care decisions.
  • The cost and successful utilization of advanced technology.

The list of industrywide challenges is long and keeps growing. Healthcare is changing so fast, it is a challenge just to keep up with the list.

Health system leadership has always served a pivotal role as a guiding force for successful organizations by exerting influence, promoting compliance, modeling appropriate behaviors, and mobilizing efforts to achieve necessary goals. But the current healthcare environment calls for more. The current challenges confronting most healthcare organizations require leadership capable of not only transforming the processes and physical environment in which people work, but also successfully addressing—and to some extent, utilizing—their beliefs, practices, and fears.

Understanding and Leading Complex Adaptive Systems

Healthcare organizations are increasingly viewed as complex adaptive systems: a collection of individual entities that can act in ways that are not always totally predictable. Furthermore, the entity’s actions are interconnected—one entity’s actions can sometimes change the context for the other entities, and thereby impact the other entity’s actions in unpredictable ways. Examples of complex adaptive systems include the environment, immune system, stock market, a colony of insects, world financial markets, and families.

The fact that healthcare organizations are complex adaptive systems has significant implications for healthcare leaders and suggests a new definition of leadership. Traditional, more hierarchical forms of leadership become less useful and effective because there tend to be fewer straightforward cause-and-effect situations to manage. Optimizing throughput and the flow of goods and services is no longer adequate.

Today, leaders must expect the unexpected. They must create and communicate a new vision for their organization, develop and successfully implement the structures and processes that will achieve the vision, create an environment that entices the organization’s members to willingly participate, and manage the complex change initiatives required to move from the status quo toward the new reality.

New Healthcare Landscape Demands Improved Healthcare Decision Support

In this new environment, a health system’s success tends to depend as much (or more) on its intellectual assets—the collective intelligence and innovative capacity of its people—as its physical assets. The challenge primarily becomes one of organizing and enabling the system’s intellectual assets rather than principally relying on the intelligence of those at the top. In addition, it becomes necessary to manage organizations both horizontally and vertically, rather than solely top to bottom.

Senior leaders cannot do this alone. It requires a collective and collaborative effort by the entire organization. Accountability and execution tend to depend more on agreement regarding a common compelling vision than command and control hierarchy. Executive leadership helps plan and coordinate activities that result in the creation of a compelling vision, allocates appropriate resources to achieve goals, and eliminates obstacles, all while relying on the organization’s knowledge assets—its people—to successfully innovate and execute on a strategy in pursuit of the vision. Throughout this process, the focus must be on speed, flexibility, and adaptability.

From a workforce perspective, healthcare is extremely fortunate—few industries have a workforce as talented, educated, and committed to serving the customer. A clear majority of clinicians (and non-clinicians) in every healthcare organization get up every day with the desire to be the best they can be for the patients they serve. Management’s goal must be to provide these staff with the training, tools, techniques, data, environment, and other forms of support they need to be successful in the quest for value. In this environment, leaders take on a very strong facilitating and enabling role.

How, then, do healthcare leaders successfully manage through this environment? There is no doubt that decision making becomes substantially more complex when done in an environment in which the beliefs and actions of entities inside and outside the organization help determine the (often unpredictable) outcome. Making good decisions in this environment requires improved healthcare decision support.

Health system leaders must be knowledge based and data driven. The entire organization must have the information necessary to make sense out of complex and unexpected situations. People must be able to analyze and improve the environment, mitigate risk, and reliably predict future behavior or results. Many decisions can only be made collectively and collaboratively because no one person has all the necessary knowledge. This requires an environment in which information and knowledge accumulate and are freely shared. It also requires advanced forms of decision support.

Leading Wisely with a Next Generation Decision Support System

An effective decision-support system is designed to facilitate leaders in decision making. It aggregates reliable, up-to-date information from all available sources, and makes it readily accessible to those leaders. Using this system, leaders can more easily break information down and view it in more user-friendly ways—often in the form of graphs that make important conclusions or trends more recognizable and understandable. This supports a leader’s ability to make sense of the information and act accordingly.

A decision-support system also supports a leader’s ability to drill down into the data in search of problems’ root causes. More advanced decision-support systems use artificial intelligence and machine learning to bring problematic situations to a leader’s attention, and help predict outcomes. The decision-support system also plays an important communication and collaboration role, helping leaders work with the intellectual assets of the organization to problem solve and align the organization around a common vision and strategy.

Managing change in the modern healthcare system is a complex and difficult endeavor not for the faint of heart. Therefore, a next generation decision-support system that helps leaders (and others in the organization) navigate this complexity becomes an industrywide imperative.

Additional Reading

Would you like to learn more about this topic? Here are some articles we suggest:

  1. Leading Wisely: Better Decision Support
  2. Data Collection Tools in Healthcare: What You Need
  3. Automating the Executive Healthcare Dashboard: Spend Less Time Collecting and Validating KPI Data
  4. Healthcare Dashboards: 3 Keys for Creating Effective and Insightful Executive Dashboards
  5. Healthcare Dashboards vs. Scorecards: Use Both to Improve Outcomes
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